I have heard talk and read media reports about eliminating the role of probation officers from the lives of justice-involved youth. I’m a probation success story and I believe strongly that juvenile probation is a critical role in the restorative justice ecosystem. Juvenile probation saves lives and should not be eliminated.
My probation story started early. My sister and I were involved in a domestic violence incident when I was13-years-old, leaving one person deceased. I was charged with second-degree murder, facing a sentence of 25 years to life.
I struggled with stints in probation facilities, but I was fortunate that the Probation staff I met were caring and made me feel safe. The experiences I had with the Los Angeles Probation Department, specifically with the probation officers themselves (particularly at the Dorothy Kirby Center), contributed to my journey and who I am today.
I recall like it was yesterday the officer who led our support group sessions always began the session by saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” These words inspired me then and continue to inspire me today, and everything that I took from my probation experience has led me to pay it forward in my community. I have written a book and launched a nonprofit organization supporting single mothers and their kids.
I have spoken to at-risk youth at continuation schools and kids actively on probation. I have shared my story with youth at L.A. County Probation facilities, letting them know that it is possible for them to turn their lives around. I would not be able to share my inspirational story if it wasn’t for the probation officers who demonstrated positive and supportive behavior over the years.
The primary goals of probation are to avoid incarceration, rehabilitate the defendant, protect society from further criminal conduct by the defendant, and protect the rights of the victim. Before the Board of Supervisors makes a decision about the future of the L.A. County Probation Department, it is important to gather all the facts and listen to all perspectives.
It is important to listen to those who work in probation and the stories of people who have been on probation – both those who had a positive and negative experience – before making such an experimental and massively disruptive decision. There are just too many lives at stake, and when a justice-involved youth falls through the cracks, he or she will likely end up incarcerated as I could have been.
There are significant advantages of a probation sentence over incarceration, including allowing the offender to work in the community, earn money to support his or her family, and have the support of friends and family while attending counseling sessions. Moreover, Probation costs a fraction of what a jail or prison term costs.
So, when I hear people say juvenile probation should be eliminated, I say with confidence that this is a bad idea because these people changed my life. I am now in a position where I can help others change their lives because of the restorative justice principles applied by the L.A. County probation officers.
Mysheka Ross is the founder of The Lighthouse of Restoration Organization, Inc. She was incarcerated from 1989-92 and subsequently spent time on probation.