Report 2000-128 Summary - May 2001

Alameda County Probation Department:

It Generally Addresses the Needs and Safety of Juveniles, but It Must Tackle Problems With the Juvenile Hall Facility and Improve Controls Over Administration of Grant Funds

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the Alameda County Probation Department (department) revealed that:

  • Vacant positions and the resulting high caseloads hinder probation officers' ability to meet with adults classified as maximum risk.

  • Detention facilities are adequately inspected for safety; however, many serious deficiencies remain while the department seeks funding to build a new Juvenile Hall.

  • Policy changes have reduced overcrowding at Juvenile Hall and reduced risks to minors working on community service projects.

  • The department has established adequate planning and evaluation mechanisms for some programs but lacks similar tools to measure the effectiveness of other services.

  • The department lacks adequate internal controls to ensure that state and federal funds are used appropriately.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Alameda County Probation Department (department) generally addresses the needs and safety of juveniles in its detention facilities. However, it lacks enough probation officers to properly supervise adults and juveniles on probation in the community, so county residents may be exposed to increased safety risks. Vacant positions translate into higher caseloads for existing probation officers, who are then unable to meet monthly with many juveniles as well as adult probationers whom the department has ruled a threat to the community. Furthermore, although the department has a reasonable vacancy and turnover rate when compared with other county departments, its vacancies are likely to rise because much of its workforce is at or near retirement age and the hiring process has not kept up with attrition. A proposed change in retirement benefits for public safety employees may exacerbate this problem by accelerating the retirement plans of many current employees.

The California Board of Corrections (BOC) and various county agencies adequately inspect the department's detention facilities. However, determining that it would be more cost effective to replace than repair the existing facility, the department has elected not to incur the costs necessary to correct serious deficiencies identified during inspections of Juvenile Hall. For example, much of the facility lacks a complete fire detection and sprinkler system. Additionally, an environmental health consulting firm recently found asbestos and lead-based paint in many areas of the facility. Also, the facility lacks upgrades to ensure that detainees are protected adequately during a catastrophe such as an earthquake. The department recently requested funding from the BOC to replace Juvenile Hall, but because of the serious nature of these deficiencies, it needs a contingency plan should the BOC reject its latest request or it is unable to obtain the funds needed to supplement moneys provided by the BOC. Furthermore, due to the county office of education's failure to conduct inspections annually, detained juveniles may not be receiving adequate, consistent levels of educational instruction.

With the implementation of new policies, the department has successfully reduced the number of days that Juvenile Hall is overcrowded, thereby increasing the safety of detained probationers. To further address the safety issue, it has implemented changes to reduce risks to minors working on community service projects and ensures that probation officers are fit to work with juveniles.

The department used federal and state grants to enhance prevention and intervention services for at-risk youth and established two gender-based programs to provide intensive supervision to a select group of juvenile probationers: the Reaffirming Young Sisters' Excellence (RYSE) and Community Probation programs. It has established adequate planning and evaluation mechanisms to measure the success of these two programs but lacks similar systems to measure the effectiveness of a third grant-funded program and of traditional services such as investigating and supervising juvenile and adult offenders. For example, although the department has established performance measures for its traditional services during the annual budget process, it does not capture the data necessary to determine whether it achieves them and, as a result, cannot provide assurance that these programs meet the needs of the county's probationers.

Furthermore, the department uses weak internal controls to ensure that it spends state and federal funds appropriately. It contracts with community-based organizations to provide services to at-risk youth, therefore assuming oversight responsibility. However, it lacks adequate monitoring tools to ensure that the organizations receiving federal and state funds are providing adequate services and that grant funds are spent properly. The county auditor-controller also identified weaknesses in the department's controls over its grant-funded checking accounts. We are concerned about the department's ability to use grant funds appropriately because it lacks adequate procedures to substantiate expenditures made through these checking accounts. We also are concerned that the department may be placing some grant-funded services at risk.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure that it does not compromise public safety and that it meets the needs of juveniles and adults on probation, the department should:

  • In conjunction with the county human resources department, step up efforts to attract and retain deputy probation officers and to achieve the desired goal of meeting with probationers at least once a month.

  • In conjunction with the county human resources department, develop a plan to address the potential effects of the increased retirement benefits for probation officers.

  • Coordinate with the county office of education and stress the importance of performing its annual inspection. The department also needs to obtain funding to replace Juvenile Hall or consider retrofitting the existing facility to address the deficiencies identified during annual inspections.

    To ensure that it has the information necessary to make informed management decisions, the department should track and evaluate the performance data it submits as part of its annual budget.

    To improve controls over its administration of state and federal funds, the department should:


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