Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Aug. 26 @ 3:07 p.m. / Local Government, Youth

DN Probation Officer's Request for AB 503 Opposition Letter Fizzles; Bill Would Limit Probation Period for Juvenile Offenders


This video from the National Youth Law Center supporting AB 503. | Courtesy of the National Youth Law Center.

Two county supervisors were initially on board with a request from Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman to send a letter opposing a California Assembly Bill that seeks to limit the amount of time a ward of the court is on probation.

But after hearing from his colleague, Valerie Starkey, who was a probation officer in Sonoma County and challenged Reyman’s draft letter opposing AB 503, District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short withdrew his motion.

District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard, who seconded Short’s motion on Tuesday, let his support for Reyman’s letter stand. But Howard’s motion died due to a lack of a second.

“That’s why the issue is on the agenda, because this board does listen to its department heads,” Howard said. “I’m definitely in agreement with some of the positions you’re taking here. There’s got to be some consequences, essentially, to the behaviors that are exhibited by youth that put them in this situation to begin with.”

Introduced in February 2021 by Assemblyman Mark Stone, who represents Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Monterey counties, AB 503 would limit the amount of time a ward is on probation to six months. That period could be extended if a probation office proved at a hearing that it was in the ward’s best interest.

AB 503 would also require the conditions of a ward’s probation be “individually tailored, developmentally appropriate and reasonable.” The bill would also remove the court’s authority to order the minor to pay a $250 fine or participate in an uncompensated work program in lieu of restitution.

In the draft letter Reyman asked county supervisors to consider, he states AB 503 treats misdemeanors and felonies the same and would also apply to youth who are charged with murder, rape, arson and robbery, whose “criminogenic needs” are higher.

The letter states that the “arbitrary nature” of a six-month wardship for all cases doesn’t accommodate the length of treatment or programs, such as sex offender programs.
It’s shorter than the Deferred Entry of Judgment program, Reyman’s letter states.

“The bill establishes a probation term for wardship, which is deemed at the higher end of the juvenile continuum, yet for a duration shorter than diversion,” the letter states. “This bill would force youth to consider a formal probation disposition term added to their criminal record than the less intrusive diversion or DEJ options.”

Speaking before supervisors on Tuesday, Reyman said his office is “very adept at taking things that we do not agree with and implementing them well.” But, he said, riffing on a slogan in support for AB 503 from the National Center for Youth Law, it’s not about “ending endless probation.”

“It is about a concerted effort to reframe the discussion for our communities that this is a public health issue not a criminal justice issue and I absolutely don’t agree with that,” Reyman said. “I’m not going to argue that there’s not trauma these kids have dealt with for years and decades prior to coming to us. What I would argue with is that we are the most damaging piece of the system that they run into, which is the story that’s being spun and what (AB) 503 is a part of.”

Starkey pointed out that AB 503 doesn’t automatically end probation for wards at the end of six months.

“When you bring up in the letter that ‘murderers and rapists and child molesters are all going to…’ that’s not necessarily true,” she said. “At the end of six months, the probation department has to make a pitch to the judge as to why we need to keep them on probation and that can go on every six months. I think this is actually a good thing.”

Board Chairman Gerry Hemmingsen also questioned Reyman’s letter, stating that he sought input from Rural County Representatives of California. Hemmingsen said there isn’t any “real opposition” to AB 503 from RCRC’s perspective.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t oppose it because I think we should support you and the reasons you oppose it,” Hemmingsen told Reyman. “You’re the one that has to work with it and if this looks like it’s going to be an issue to you it’s an issue to me.”

Reyman argued that the conditions imposed on youth who are on probation are tied to their needs and are within the context of the crime that’s committed. He said it’s this message that gets lost in AB 503 and similar bills.

“These youth have committed crimes,” he said. “There are victims in our community and they’re being put by the wayside while we focus on ‘health-related issues.’”

Reyman said his department would be able to work with AB 503 if the Legislature approves it.

AB 503 is currently being considered in the State Senate.

Documents:

Del Norte's proposed AB 503 opposition letter


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