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S.D. Probation Dept. Seeing Increased Workload, Less Money

San Diego County Probation Officer Gonzalo Mendez works beside a stack of probation case files.
San Diego County Probation Officer Gonzalo Mendez works beside a stack of probation case files.

S.D. Probation Department Seeing Increased Workload, Less Money
There are nearly 18-thousand adults currently on probation in San Diego County. Just 76 probation officers monitor all of them. KPBS Metro reporter Katie Orr says recent budget cuts might increase the probation officers' workloads.

There are nearly 18,000 adults currently on probation in San Diego County. Just 76 probation officers monitor them all. Recent budget cuts might increase the probation officers’ workloads.

Probation officers with the county’s DUI Enforcement team pull-up outside a small apartment building on a weekday morning. They’re here to do a surprise check on one of the felony DUI offenders they monitor. Before they go in the officers review the case file of Jarwin Rosales.

The team approaches the apartment and finds Rosales at home. They walk inside, handcuff him and search the home to make sure there aren’t any weapons or alcohol in the apartment. Then one officer stands guard as the other officers gave Rosales a breathalyzer test.

Rosales did some jail time for evading the police after being pulled over for a DUI. He’s now on probation and has some pretty clear feelings about it.

“Oh, it sucks! It takes a lot of your time away. It takes a lot of your money. It’s very expensive,” he said.

Rosales may have to check in with the probation department every few days, but he’s just one of the cases the DUI unit must keep track of. The team’s Supervising Probation Officer, Gonzalo Mendez, said cases are divided into intensive and mid-level supervision. And he says the workload is increasing.

“We are overwhelmed with the number of cases. We would like to be at an average of 50 cases per officer in intensive and we’re easily at 70 to 75 cases,” Mendez said.

But the DUI team is one of the lucky probation units. There are nine probation officers in the unit and four of them are funded through a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety. It’s a different story in the rest of the department. Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins said he’s had to cut nearly $17 million from the probation department’s budget in the last year and a half. Nearly 150 positions have been eliminated and 41 people have been laid off. Jenkins said it’s now a matter of prioritizing cases.

“And we are concerned about even the lower level or medium-risk offenders possibly re-offending. But given the situation when our resources are declining, we have little option but to make sure that our remaining resources are focused on those individuals who are, again, at the highest risk level,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he wants to keep the high-risk offenders at a ratio of 50 cases to one probation officer. He says he’d like to keep medium-risk cases at a 1-to-150 ratio but says that could grow to 1-to-300 because of budget cuts. To keep the ratios lower, Jenkins said the department is using technology to monitor some cases and is looking to completely close others.

“We’ll be having conversations with the court and will hopefully look for opportunities to ask the court to terminate those cases that have done everything they need to do, that have been in compliance and have received the benefit from probation,” he says.

But the challenges just keep coming. There are proposals at the state level that would keep more offenders in local jail systems to keep them out of the overcrowded and underfunded state prisons. Funding for some juvenile probation programs has been shifted from the state general fund. The programs now rely on vehicle license fees which have fallen below projections. And funding for Proposition 36, a program to treat non-violent drug users, has been completely eliminated. But Jenkins said the probation department must continue to manage no matter what the economic situation. And he says he has to look for ways to raise the department’s profile and not get lost in the shuffle as the budget cuts continue.

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