Connecting the Dots: Probation Is A Harmful Law Enforcement Agency. Period.
This piece is a reportback on Item #51 from the Board of Supervisors May 18th meeting
Now is the time to call out a simple fact: Probation agencies are law enforcement agencies.
Probation Departments, including the Sacramento Probation Department, are harmful to our communities by design—their job is to criminalize, surveil, and set us up to fail. When you’re on Probation, simple mistakes and structural barriers can easily land you in jail: a battery problem with an ankle monitor, a missed appointment due to transportation, child care, or health issues, or dozens of other “technical violations” that have nothing to do with public safety.
For example, Sacramento County was one of 16 counties given state dollars for a Probation-led “pre-trial release” pilot in 2019. Probation received over $8 million for “pre-trial services” but spent 84% of that money on new staff, 80% of whom were armed officers, and 7% on forced drug testing and GPS monitoring—despite the pilot program calling for “the least restrictive monitoring practices possible” and “assessing any bias” in their risk assessment tools.
Probation spent only 3.7% on supportive services, has not shared any data on racial equity, and never delivered on their promise to grant $150,000 of those dollars to community-based organizations.
May 18th City Council Meeting:
On May 18th, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors heard a brief presentation from the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP), an entity chaired by the Chief of Probation that makes policy and funding recommendations to the Board of Supervisors related to AB 109 Realignment, a state policy that shifted roughly one-third of the state prison population to county jails. Sacramento County receives ~$50 million Realignment dollars per year, and while these funds are extremely flexible and encouraged to be spent on “community-based alternatives to incarceration” and “evidence-based practices,” the law enforcement actors who dominate CCP—Probation, Sheriff, and the DA—seem to consistently recommend themselves for funding. Despite the fact that state audits have revealed that “weak oversight” has led to ineffective AB 109 spending, the Sacramento CCP’s 2021 plan was rubber stamped for approval by the Board of Supes, as it has been since the CCP was created nearly a decade ago. But community organizers are paying more attention now, and called into the meeting to share their grievances.
There is too much at stake to allow Probation to suck up all our dollars just because they use the right buzzwords. Sacramento Board of Supes have now canceled two jail expansion projects, publicly stating their commitment to reducing the jail population to prevent future lawsuits and take better care of their residents. Decarceration efforts must be rooted in the community, led by those most impacted, and based in robust care and services that break cycles of criminalization, poverty and systemic racism.
Probation is working hard to position itself as a leader in “alternatives,” but in reality their practices hugely expand the net of who can be surveilled and detained.
We aren’t surprised by how Probation is showing up in the CCP space they lead—disingenuous and deceiving. For instance, their 2021 plan recommends robust record expungement efforts. Yet, for people to become eligible for expungements, they have to be off of probation. The way to slow down that pipeline, while benefiting the probation department, is to keep them on probation as long as possible. Probation is currently failing to remove over 11,000 people from Probation who are now eligible under the new AB 1950 law. Probation says one thing but does another, repackaging itself as “reformers” and “service providers” because it funnels money their way.
On May 18th, Decarcerate Sacramento (DS) made alternate recommendations to the Board:
Spend the majority of CCP funds on community-based treatment and non-carceral, trauma-informed alternatives to incarceration outside of the legal system.
Be transparent about AB 109 allocations and share reports that break down past spending.
Publish data publicly on recidivism rates in Sacramento County, broken down by race.
Implement robust and meaningful public engagement, not just short meetings for “input."
DS is specifically recommending the Board redirect at least 65% (or $32 million) of AB109 Realignment funds to community based reentry programs outside of the Sheriff or Probation Departments to meet their goals of reducing the jail population. Alameda County earmarked 50% of Realignment funds for jobs, healthcare, housing, education and restorative justice initiatives. Contra Costa County earmarked 60% to community-based programs and services. Sacramento County can and should make these investments.
While the BOS approved the CCP’s 2021 recommendations on May 18th, the actual county budget has yet to be decided. On May 28th, county administrators released their proposed budget and unfortunately, Probation is slated to get 37 new full-time staff and a $7 million budget increase, while effective programs based in wraparound services, like the Public Defender’s grant-funded release program, and basic health and human services, are once again shut out from the coffers.
The Call to Action
Should our County Board of Supervisors be taking direction from entities like Probation that are concerned with their own self-preservation? Or should they listen to those at the margins, those who have been most impacted by the criminal legal system, those who know firsthand that once you’re in the hands of law enforcement, they make it nearly impossible to get out? We need our entire community to speak out at the County’s first budget hearing on June 9th to demand #CareNotCages, including the cages created by Probation when they surveil us or incarcerate us in our homes. The only way Sacramento County will significantly and sustainably reduce the jail population is by redirecting law enforcement dollars into community-based pretrial services that preserve the presumption of innocence.