Probation has long been the neglected stepchild of the criminal justice system. Probation officers combine police work with social work. They monitor convicted criminals the courts have deemed safe enough to remain free to make sure they fulfill the terms of their probation – like pay restitution, and attend anger management or drug rehabilitation programs. They help steer criminals to mental health services, school, training and jobs.
When probation works well, offenders never offend again.
Beginning in the mid 1990s the state invested heavily in juvenile probation services with startling results. Even though the number of teenagers increased by 26% between 1995 and 2005, the number of juvenile felony arrests declined by 48%. The number of juveniles sentenced to California’s Youth Authority dropped a whopping 55%. Unfortunately, intensive probation services end at age 18, but the crime-prone years continue until at least 25. The governor proposes to expand the state’s investment in probation to target young adults. He thinks, and studies show, well funded probation can cut crime and reduce the need for prisons. That’s real prison reform and it deserves support.