Alameda County to name new head of probation in December

By Sean Maher (Oakland Tribune) | November 12, 2010

OAKLAND — With Alameda County officials just weeks away from naming a new chief probation officer, some community groups seeking effective alternatives for teens say the hiring process for such an important job has been woefully closed to the public.

A group of parents, organized by the West Oakland nonprofit Ella Baker Center, attended the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to ask that supervisors open the hiring process or, failing that, at least hire somebody who will be cooperative and open to conversations with residents and who will find effective alternatives to sending teens who make mistakes to jail.

The Alameda County Probation Department has been without a permanent chief since April, when Donald Blevins left the job to take a similar one in Los Angeles.

The chief probation officer’s primary responsibilities include managing the department’s slashed $88 million budget and ensuring that services remain staffed and effective for the thousands of adult and juvenile offenders placed in its care every month.

In the fiscal year that ended in July, the department carried a monthly caseload of about 2,700 adults and 3,200 juveniles.

Several angry parents said Tuesday that those juveniles often are treated poorly, threatened by officers and lumped in with gangs against their will.

Struggling teens

Rosa Roque, who raised four grandchildren in Oakland before moving to San Leandro, said she has tried hard to be strict to keep them out of trouble.

“They are good students and do not wear any tattoos, gang colors or even baggy pants,” she said. But when her two youngest granddaughters got into a fight with some fellow students, “they were sent to Juvenile Hall and immediately labeled gang members,” she said.

“Being labeled a gang member while confined made me worried about her safety,” Roque said. “I also felt embarrassed and angry that a young woman who has never gotten into trouble could be labeled so quickly.”

Chanel Wilson, 43, who lives in North Oakland, said she works a full-time job and extra shifts on the weekends to support her three children. When her 17-year-old son was arrested and accused of crack cocaine possession, she said he was put on probation but his probation officer was never available. She went to Juvenile Hall to ask for help navigating the process, but “every time I tried to call, there’s no one to talk to and no one to help me understand how to help my son.”

Defending the process

Mary Welch, who directs human resources for the county and has been responsible for the hiring process, said the recruitment brochure she sent across the country to find a new probation chief included the most salient concerns and demands of not just the community groups she met with, but also those of the sheriff’s department, and the district attorney and public defenders’ offices.

“It’s not easy to fill a department head position,” Welch said. “We did a national search, highly publicized, but even more than that, what our headhunter did was make calls to find out who the really good high performers are, top-notch people who aren’t looking for a job but could apply anyway.”

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Image: WitnessLA

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