The County Voice

There’s a Strong Spirit of Innovation in the Sacramento County Probation Department

When it comes to developing innovative, successful programs, Sacramento County’s Probation Department is on a roll.

Much like the San Francisco Giants recent run of winning World Series in even-numbered years, the Sacramento County Probation Department is following a similar trend by taking home CSAC Challenge Award honors in 2014, 2016 and now 2018. CSAC spotlights the most innovative programs created by California Counties each year through our awards program.

On Monday, CSAC staff toured the County’s Youth Detention Facility to learn about its most recent award-winning program: the development of a multi-sensory de-escalation room. It’s the first juvenile detention facility in the United States to open such a program.

The Youth Detention Facility actually has two de-escalation rooms that provide a safe environment allowing the residents to calm down and regulate their feelings without use of force or being put in isolation. The youths learn to regulate their feelings and temper, a skill that will serve them well when they are back in the community. One youth said that if he had these skills when he was younger, he probably wouldn’t even have ended up in Juvenile Hall.

Two years ago, we learned about a partnership between the Sacramento County Probation Department, County Office of Education and the nonprofit Northern California Construction Training that provides free training and skill development to probationers who want to enter the construction trades. And in 2014, CSAC honored the department’s program that allows probationers to earn bicycles to be used for transportation when they reach certain milestones, reducing the number of missed court dates and other mandated meetings.

I had the opportunity to ask Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale about the department’s obvious innovative spirit:

“Innovation has always been central to what we do as a Probation Department. We’re always looking for opportunities to improve the kind of work that we do,” Chief Seale said. “We’ve always been open to moving forward and doing things better. It’s what makes our jobs worthwhile. It’s what makes coming to work each day exciting – the fact that the way we do business tomorrow might be different than the way we do business today.”

At CSAC, we are seeing a lot of innovation out of County Probation Departments across the state. In fact, the departments in both Inyo and Shasta Counties are also being honored in our 2018 awards competition for their best practices. And in the past few years we have learned about award-winning programs in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego and Yolo Counties to name a few.

For many counties, the innovation is a result of a culture shift, where departments are now looking for solutions to break the cycle of recidivism that has plagued our justice system. Programs are being developed to assist probationers. As one probationer recently told me, “I am still being held accountable, but now I know there’s someone out there that supports me.”

We are confident we will see even more innovation from County Probation Departments in the 2019 CSAC Challenge Awards. But unlike the San Francisco Giants, Chief Steale doesn’t want to wait around to 2020 to have his department honored again. When asked about being honored again next year, he said smiling, “You can count on a fourth Challenge Award next year.”

Yes, an innovative spirit is alive and well in Sacramento County.


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