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Criminal Justice System in L.A.

January 07, 1991

Although the series seldom made for pleasant reading, it performed a significant public service by providing a graphic and comprehensive view of the state of the criminal justice system in Los Angeles.

The article "System Overflows With a Flood of Probationers" (Dec. 21) was of special interest to me as chief probation officer of Los Angeles County. While the article's thrust and scope did not permit mention of many of the new approaches the Probation Department has been pioneering, it did make two things very clear.

First, despite great difficulty and much frustration, my deputies have not wavered in their deeply felt commitment to protect our community from growing numbers of felons released on probation.

Second, whatever the future may hold for the justice system, probation--right now--is what keeps the system functioning as well as it does. With more than 80% of convicted criminals sentenced to probation, it clearly is the punishment of choice for an overwhelmed justice system. The reality is that probation, for all practical purposes, is criminal punishment today. Because of this, it is critical that probation be funded commensurate with the huge community protection responsibility it has been given. Recently the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on management of prison population called for a more equitable funding balance between state corrections and local probation, which supervises 82% of the state's felons but gets only 18% of needed funding from the state in return.

The Legislature has mandated community safety through probation's supervision of those felons not in prison. Probation is committed to do this and looks forward to the early passage of a Community Corrections Act that will carry out the commission's and the Legislature's intent.

BARRY J. NIDORF, Chief Probation Officer, Los Angeles County

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