Trending Topics

Reassigning probation officers to LA County juvenile halls leads to court delays, safety concerns

About 250 filed officers were reassigned in March to understaffed juvenile halls in a successful effort to prevent the closure of the county’s two largest facilities

Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall

Los Angeles County moved some 275 youths to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, pictured here, in May 2023. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Dean Musgrove/TNS

By Jason Henry
Pasadena Star-News, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County probation officials claim the loss of 750 officers from their field offices is creating frustration, long court delays and a lack of oversight for thousands of convicted criminals in the region.

Roughly 250 of the officers were temporarily reassigned in March to the county’s troubled, understaffed juvenile halls as part of a desperate — but ultimately successful — gambit to stave off the state’s impending shutdown of its two largest facilities. Simultaneously, the Probation Department sent home approximately 500 other field officers who could not work in the juvenile halls due to medical restrictions, though it would have been possible for them to perform the office work they did previously, according to the Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Officers Union .

As a result, staff members in the dwindled field offices are now struggling to supervise thousands of probationers and to keep up with prior workloads, union officials say. Probationers say they can’t reach the officers overseeing them, while judges grow frustrated with impediments caused by missing reports routinely produced by probation’s staff.

“Field DPOs are responsible for supervising tens of thousands of probationers in L.A. County neighborhoods,” said Stacy Ford , president of the probation officers union. “The forced reassignment is having an impact on community safety as probationers on community release are simply not being supervised as required.”

The hundreds of officers — responsible for performing compliance checks, monitoring for drug use and ensuring school attendance — are no longer performing their regular duties, according to Ford. A typical field probation officer supervises about 70 probationers, he said.

Other employees have fallen behind on a variety of reports used every day in criminal cases. Those include 3,000 monthly reports utilized by judges to evaluate criminal histories, assess probation violations, determine sentencing conditions and order the relinquishment of firearms.

The department has indicated it may create 125 to 180 temporary positions for the officers on limited duty, while the rest will have to remain at home until they can return to full duty, according to the probation officers’ union.

Some of the officers with restrictions have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the department is discriminating against them.

Frustration, confusion

Since the redeployments, there’s been a noticeable decline in the department’s work, according to multiple sources.

In a statement, the director of communications for the Los Angeles County Superior Court system confirmed the courts have been impacted by the Probation Department’s shuffling of staff.

“Presiding Judge Jessner has not met with L.A. County Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa on this issue,” spokesman Rob Oftring said. “However, the Court has communicated its concerns regarding delays in receiving reports and staffing courtrooms to the County Probation Department and is confident that these issues are being addressed.”

The Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, which represents defendants unable to pay for private attorneys, indicated its clients have been affected as well.

“We have seen an uptick in terms of complaints from our clients, having to put cases over as we wait for these reports, and our lawyers who are very frustrated with the length of time that their clients are having to stay in custody,” said Justine Esack , chief deputy of the Public Defender’s Office. “Our clients who are out of custody are having difficulty making contact with their probation officers.”

Lawyers whose clients were arrested, or received warrants for failing to report to their probation officers, have investigated and found offices unexpectedly closed during regular business hours and general confusion about which probation officer oversaw the client’s case, Esack said.

“It becomes really frustrating and it’s a real issue for our clients,” Esack said. “If they are jailed because of some deficit in this process, they can lose their place to live. They can lose their jobs or be taken away from their family for a period of time. There are real-life consequences.”

Angeles Zaragoza , a deputy alternate public defender and a member of the Board of State and Community Corrections , echoed those concerns during the BSCC’s April meeting, shortly after the board narrowly voted to allow two of Los Angeles County’s juvenile facilities — Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall and the Barry J. Nidorf Secure Youth Treatment Center — to stay open, in part because of the infusion of new officers from the redeployment.

“Our young people, who are on probation, trying to get their lives together, don’t even know who their probation officer is, or how to get ahold of their probation officer, are ending up with violations because they can’t get ahold of P.O. because their P.O. is deployed,” she told her colleagues. “Everybody loses with this Band-Aid. And we’re going to be here again, I know it.”

Failing to properly supervise probationers also can lead to deadly consequences.

Last year, the county Office of Inspector General found the department overlooked multiple red flags and failed to act on information that a probationer was using drugs and carrying a firearm in the weeks before he killed two El Monte police officers and then himself in 2022.

The report found the department had not properly monitored convicted gang member Justin Flores for years. Flores’ probation officer did not make contact with Flores, despite saying he had, on multiple occasions, and did not follow up after learning that Flores wasn’t living at the address provided to the department. Though he received warnings about Flores using PCP and carrying a gun a week before the shooting in El Monte , he did not pass that information along to law enforcement.

‘A particularly challenging time’

The Probation Department did not respond to a request for comment regarding Zaragoza’s comments. But Felicia Cotton , deputy director of the department, briefly addressed similar complaints brought up by a caller at a recent Probation Oversight Commission meeting.

“I personally have called the P.O. locator line and they’ve called me back saying they’ve made four to five phone calls to different probation officers that were listed as being the probation officer, and they all said no, they weren’t,” said the parent, Lupe Ross .

“My apologies if your call may have gotten caught in the changeover,” Cotton responded.

All of the probation officers remain open and leadership at the individual offices should be able to provide assistance, Cotton said.

“We have had to reshuffle and realign caseloads,” she said. “That work has been disseminated to other probation officers in the office or in the region.”

In a separate statement, the department stated it is working “internally to expedite the timely delivery of state-mandated probation reports in adult cases” as a result of the concerns expressed by Superior Court judges.

“To address the Court’s concerns, we have transferred people from field operations and are retraining others to more than double the staff currently responsible for producing reports,” a spokesperson said in an email. “We continue to use all available resources to meet our state-mandated requirements while we negotiate a particularly challenging time in the Department.”

Probation officers are cycling through the juvenile halls on full-time, 60-day rotations. With the first rotation nearly up, the Probation Department’s leadership once again will need to shuffle officers around to fill the next group, creating the potential for even more chaos.

Assembling the next group could prove challenging. The department reportedly struggled to find 250 officers capable of handling the conditions in the halls in the first round and had to agree to concessions with the union, including reducing the length of the redeployment down from 90 days.

A FAQ posted by the probation officers’ union indicated the department may even cancel preapproved time-off requests for newly reassigned officers if necessary to meet the staffing requirements at the juvenile halls.

A cultural problem?

Esack, the chief deputy public defender, said her office has experienced many of these same issues with the Probation Department for years, though she acknowledged a recent uptick because of the reassignments. She attributed it not to staffing, but to the department’s focus “on punishment, rather than care and resources.”

“From our perspective, it’s really a cultural issue,” she said. “Our clients have been feeling the consequences of the culture of the Probation Department for a long time.”

Many of the “perfunctory reports” generated by the Probation Department are unnecessary, slow down cases and result in individuals being held in jail longer, she said. Information contained in some of the reports is already readily available digitally to prosecutors and judges, she said.

“As it operates now, it is not working,” she said. “The system needs to be changed.”

Eduardo Mundo , the chair of the county’s Probation Oversight Commission and a former supervising probation officer, said he also doesn’t buy that staffing is the only reason why the department isn’t keeping up with its workload.

“No one was concerned when I was a DPO (deputy probation officer) and had 200 cases,” he said. “No one thought about public safety when I had that.”

Mundo said his caseload declined from 200 cases at a time in 1994 to only about 40 cases in the early 2000s, he said.

“When I was an investigator, we would average six or seven reports per week,” he said. “The last time I saw information related to investigations, what I was doing in a month by myself, an office was doing in three months.”

The Probation Oversight Commission has requested data about the field offices from the department and plans to dig into the impacts of the redeployment at its next two meetings in May and June, according to Mundo.

“What is really contributing to that? I have to see the data,” Mundo said. “I just find it odd that with the workload so low, that they couldn’t halve their juvenile workforce and still maintain the work quality.”


(c)2024 Pasadena Star-News, Calif.
Visit Pasadena Star-News, Calif. at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.