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Bold and innovative leadership from Alameda County

Alameda County's Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad demonstrates innovative and determined leadership through his new approach to serving juvenile justice involved youth.  He employs a youth development framework that views youthful offenders not simply as a "bundle of needs and problems", but rather as individuals with real resiliency and strengths that can be incorporated into their plan for rehabilitation and reentry.  In his recent keynote address at the California Wellness Foundation's 2011 Conference on Violence Prevention, Chief Muhammad discussed nine principles for reform that his department has begun implementing.  Their overarching goals are reducing recidivism rates, increasing public safety, and improving the long-term outcomes for youth under county supervision.  

Chief Muhammad made a compelling case that developing the right staff culture, with the right commitment to young people, is as important as introducing the right practices based on data and research.  He clearly has an understanding of youthful offenders as whole people and values the positive role that families and communities play in rehabilitation.  The following are highlights from his nine principles:

Trauma-Informed Interventions
Chief Muhammad articulates that "hurt people, hurt people" and proposes that many of the delinquent behaviors committed by young people come from their deep experiences of trauma.  He asks, "If we ignore the trauma and just try to correct the delinquent behavior, will we ever see true rehabilitation?"  He is redirecting his department to develop interventions that are "trauma-informed" by training his staff in how to identify trauma and connect youth to the appropriate services.

Risk-Assessments Combined with Need-Assessments

Alameda County has begun conducting "needs assessments" in addition to "risk assessments" so that lower-risk youth do not consume excess staff resources and encounter excessive contact with the criminal justice system that can do more harm than good.  High-risk youth in Alameda County develop collaborative "individual achievement plans" with their probation.  Individualized approaches and interventions have shown improved results in safety and rehabilitation.

Community-Based Alternatives
Alameda County recently opened their first evening reporting center that provides youth with connections to community-based services.  This center allows youth to be at home and to report in everyday after school, maintaining positive contacts with family.  It serves as a geographical hub for probation officers to connect youth to adequate resources.  The state has recognized this innovation and has awarded Alameda County a grant to open two more evening reporting centers in the coming year.

Clear Policies for Sanctions
Chief Muhammad argues for "graduated sanctions" where there are clear outlines for staff to provide consequences for negative behavior.  A fellow Chief Probation Officer told him that too many juveniles are violated for "poo-poo", which stands for pissed off probation officers.  Staff and youth under supervision need clear policies of when to violate.  The department is working with the Burns Institute in developing these policies for Alameda County.

California needs more probation chiefs who willing to innovate, to embrace the importance of data-driven approaches and best practices, and to lead their counties in building juvenile justice systems for the 21st century.

Keywords: Alameda County, best practices, Brian Heller de Leon, community corrections, trauma-informed

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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