Los Angeles County supervisors to consider new probation oversight body

Los Angeles County supervisors will consider setting up a new oversight panel to monitor the perennially troubled probation department.

The probation department emerged in 2015 from six years of federal monitoring of conditions in the juvenile camps and halls, after federal officials found the agency had carried out required reforms.

But a few months later, its chief, Jerry Powers, departed under a cloud after reports surfaced that he had improperly hired a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship into a management position in the department.

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And a series of recent county audits questioned the department's management of funds. Among other findings, the auditor found the department failed to seek state reimbursement for anti-recidivism programs, costing the county $10 million from its general fund.

At the urging of Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board voted unanimously Tuesday to set up a working group that will examine the various commissions and other bodies that oversee different aspects of the probation department. The agency oversees both adult probationers in the community and juveniles in and out of custody.

The panel, which will include Acting Probation Chief Cal Remington, the county's top attorney, and one person appointed by each of the five supervisors, will recommend how to best structure oversight of the agency.

Among other options, the panel will consider creating a civilian oversight commission for probation similar to the one the county is setting up for the Sheriff's Department.

Kuehl said that between various commissions and boards and internal and external bodies that oversee various aspects of the department, "There has a sort of chaotic blend of oversight."

She and Ridley-Thomas wrote that they want to look at "whether there is an opportunity for comprehensive oversight of the entire probation department."

Child welfare and criminal justice reform advocates, along with representatives of unions representing probation staff, spoke in favor of the move to review oversight of the department.

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Hans Liang, first vice president of the union representing county probation officers, said the union is "enthusiastic" about the proposal.

"It's no secret that our department has been in chaos for far too long," he said.

In the meantime, the supervisors are seeking a new permanent probation chief for the department, which has had five leaders in the last decade.

They are also expected to consider a proposal to split the department into two agencies, one overseeing the adult probationer population and the other for juveniles.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella

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