Resource Development Associates

The Power of Seeing Change

By Patricia Marrone Bennett

Our group included the Chief Probation Officer, two judges, County Counsel, and justice deputies of the Board of Supervisors, probation officers, union representatives, staff of community-based organizations, advocates, mental health workers, and officials from Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Much of our work results in reports that recommend changes to public systems. If we do our work well, we achieve buy-in from our clients prior to issuing the report, which facilitates implementation of those recommendations.

In Los Angeles County, we are working with the Probation Department on a study that will help guide reforms. Prior to our work, the department had received over 50 reports, audits, and comprehensive studies recommending changes necessary to improve that system. With so many previous recommendations on file, we knew we had to do something different to help ensure that our efforts gained the traction needed to achieve effective implementation. To help accomplish this, we organized a field trip to New York City and Washington, D.C., to give 40 stakeholders from the Probation Department, County government and community based organizations the opportunity to view model programs and systems.

(Find out more: As part of our Los Angeles County Probation project, we’ve already completed an in-depth review of best practices in probation, which you can find here.)

For five days, we visited community-based and institutional program sites responsible for creating huge paradigm shifts in probation for youth and adults.

The Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON) is one example of the innovative program models that we saw. Operated by the New York City Department of Probation, NeON is a probation reporting center that hosts multiple organizations and public agencies on site, while also emphasizing arts and leveraging partnerships with organizations like Carnegie Hall. During our visit with NeON, we noticed that none of the many people we saw looked like law enforcement agents, although many were probation officers. Tables were set up for people to sign up for health care and other services. There was also a food pantry for those who were hungry or in need. And there was a school classroom on site that could boast a high level of success in improving educational outcomes. We listened to the poetry written by clients and we sat in on a council meeting that was awarding grants for summer arts programs sponsored by Carnegie Hall.

NeON was one of many innovative programs that we saw. At the end of our trip, the Chief Probation Officer went around the room and asked each person to say what commitment they would make to work on bringing something back to LA. RDA staff kept the notes from this engaging group conversation and will include them as part of our report. After a successful week, we are more inspired than ever to continue working with LA County to make their probation department a model program that can inspire change across the country.

We’ll have more to share from our work with Los Angeles County Probation, so be sure to check back on our blog for updates.

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