L.A. County Probation Dept. Fails to Spend Money Earmarked for At-Risk Youth

Los Angeles County’s Probation Department left more than $7.4 million of state funds earmarked for at-risk youth unspent during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to a Probation Department report filed with the state’s Board of State and Community Corrections.

At a meeting last week of the county body that allocates state money to prevent delinquency among at-risk youth, discussion centered on the continuing difficulty to spend millions of dollars, as well as the cumbersome rules that circumscribe the participation of community-based organizations in using the funding.

Every year, Los Angeles County receives more than $28 million from the state’s Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) program to fund prevention and intervention services aimed at young people.

Created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000, the JJCPA program uses revenue from vehicle license fees in the state to provide a consistent source of funding for counties to work with young people. The goal is to create programs aimed at preventing at-risk youth from becoming entangled with the justice system and intervening before they are plunged into court dates and supervision by probation officers.

L.A. County’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council (JJCC) — a body run by the Probation Department that includes representatives from several county agencies — decides how this money is spent, though the process for allocating the money seldom draws attention or participation from the county’s Board of Supervisors.

“There’s money committed over long periods of time that isn’t in the community working for children,” at-large JJCC representative Carol Biondi said at the January 11 meeting.

At the meeting, Biondi referenced a Probation Department progress report that itemized how Los Angeles County allocated and spent JJCPA funds in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The report totaled more than $34 million in funds committed to programs in the county for the year, but $7.4 million of it remained committed but unspent.

Nearly $800,000 that was designated for the Probation Department’s school-based supervision program that places Probation officers in schools to work with at-risk youth was not used, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Chronicle of Social Change.

Among other pools of unspent money, more than $516,000 was earmarked to be spent on a therapy program for juvenile offenders from 12 to 18. About $310,000 was left unspent. About $1.1 million aimed at services for high-risk, high-need youth was not used.

The largest pot of unspent cash was $2.6 million designated for the Probation Department’s New Directions program that is designed to divert young people from entering the county’s juvenile justice system. Only $397,091 was actually spent during the last fiscal year, and that money paid for one supervising deputy probation officer and two deputy probation officers, according to data provided to The Chronicle of Social Change by a community member.

At the meeting, representatives from the Probation Department said that some monies had not yet been spent on the New Directions program because $1 million allocated from a portion of JJCPA money by the Board of Supervisors to expand the program had not yet come onto the books until late in the process. According to Tasha Howard, director of contracts and grants management for the Probation Department, money for New Directions will be spent over the next two years.

Biondi called for the JJCC to re-evaluate why some programs were underspending their allocations.

“If these programs have so much unspent funds, then we want to look at the programs and identify programs where the money gets into the community, working for kids,” said Biondi, a longtime juvenile-justice advocate.

Biondi and other advocates have called for greater dispersion of the JJCPA funds to community-based organizations.

However, others blamed the slow and onerous process of county contracting as a reason why many community-based organizations have not always been able to qualify for the JJCPA funds.

Sergeant Mark Cripe, who supervises a youth intervention program for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said at the meeting that many advocates do not appreciate the cumbersome nature of the county contracting process.

“I had to write a RFP for one CBO and it took 12 months within the county, just one,” Cripe said. “I don’t think there is irresponsibility. It’s just the environment that we have to operate in with the accountability that we have to operate under.”

The next meeting of the JJCC is scheduled for February.

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Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 351 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jeremyloudenback@chronicleofsocialchange.org.