This Thursday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and former Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal will begin serving as the newest members of the Los Angeles County Probation Commission, a role for which they were nominated last month by Supervisor Janice Hahn and subsequently approved by the County Board of Supervisors.
As is standard practice when a new Supervisor is elected, Richardson and Lowenthal will replace commissioners previously nominated by Supervisor Don Knabe, who retired in 2016. Hahn will nominate a third commissioner, Downey Councilman Alex Saab, at the next board meeting, according to Hahn’s spokeswoman Liz Odendahl. The three new appointees—the number allotted for each county supervisor to nominate—will replace Fitzgerald Jones of Long Beach, Clayton Hollopeter of El Monte and Gabriella Holt of Rancho Palos Verdes.
“I want to get in and support the great work that's happening and see how I can lend a hand in whatever changes are going to take place,” Richardson told the Post.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and former Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal attend a Deputy Probation Officer Graduation Ceremony held February 23 at the Probation Training Center in Pico Rivera. Left to right: Rex Richardon; Bonnie Lowenthal; Herlinda Chico—on behalf of Supervisor Janice Hahn; LaCrystal Marks—Graduating Deputy Probation Officer and foster youth; Chief Probation Officer Terrie McDonald. Photo courtesy of Richardson's office.
The commission acts as the oversight committee for the nation’s largest probation department consisting of 6,500 employees, a budget of $820 million and dozens of field offices, residential substance abuse treatment campuses and juvenile halls, according to probation officials.
The department also helps implement many reforms mandated by the state and voters, including AB 109—which transferred nonviolent felons from state prisons to county jails—and Prop. 47, the 2014 ballot initiative that reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors.
Both state laws, along with the county’s probation policies, were flagged for review by Supervisors Hahn and Kathryn Barger in late February, a day after a Whittier police officer was shot and killed by a parolee with an extensive criminal record and history of violating the terms of his release. The women called for a report on the gunman’s criminal history and his involvement with the state parole system and probation supervision.
“We do not yet know if those laws contributed in any way to this tragedy,” Hahn said in a statement at the time. “But we do know that [the gunman Michael] Mejia was under the county’s supervision. We need the facts and we need to look if there was any failure of protocol that led to this terrible tragedy.”
The Probation Department is also responsible for bringing the county’s juvenile system into compliance with recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the prosecution, detention and incarceration of youth offenders.
Richardson said he hopes to help implement changes in the juvenile system like those he’s championed in Long Beach, such as the city’s Promising Adults, Tomorrow’s Hope (PATH) youth diversion program.
“This is the largest probation department in the nation, and so they handle adult probationers, they manage the youth camps and youth jails, and a lot of times these individuals represent people’s family members and the youth in our community,” Richardson said.
In a press conference held yesterday, Senators Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell introduced a package of bills meant to keep young children out of the juvenile justice system. The bills would call for actions such as ending the collection of administrative fees against families with youth in the system, bring the state in compliance with a Supreme Court decision that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole, and exclude children age 11 and younger from juvenile court jurisdiction.
“Sadly, too many poor kids and kids of color today are more likely to end up as victims of the juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said in a statement. “If one believes that our children will be tomorrow’s leaders then we must look through a child-development lens and provide the appropriate resources and policies to get them there.”