Yolo County Probation’s juvenile program lost nearly $1 million in funding this year due to state budget cuts, a development that has probation officials worried about public safety.
The cuts will have a serious impact on juvenile offenders, said chief probation officer Don Meyer.
“That’s about 38 percent of our budget,” Meyer said.
Meyer worries the lack of funding could mean drastic changes to the juvenile program.
“[Budget cuts] means fewer programs, fewer staff,” he said. “There isn’t really much more to trim, so it’ll mean people and programs.“
These programs in jeopardy have been successful in reducing the population of Yolo County’s juvenile hall by 50 percent, Meyer said.
Probation officers serve to supervise and keep track of people who have been put on probation by the court.
“That entails a lot of different things from drug testing the person, to doing home visits, to searching the person’s property, to having them come in to meet with probation officers,” said adult probation program manager Jim Metzen.
When there are fewer probation officers handling a larger quantity of people, it becomes increasingly difficult for officers to do these things with regularity, Metzen said.
“It would impact our ability to monitor people effectively,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to do regular checks on people; we’d probably just be handling emergency situations.“
Metzen expressed concern that cutting probation officers could mean a threat to public safety.
“When there’s a lack of supervision there’s going to be more crime in the community,” he said. “It helps to make them aware that there is somebody that is going to be looking to see that they are complying with the terms and conditions the court ordered.“
Chief probation officer Meyer said the probation department’s budget problems are due to the economic crisis, which is a paradox for criminal justice departments.
“Often crime escalates during bad economic times,” he said. “You simply don’t have people to respond to crimes. It all takes money.“
The adult probation program, unlike the juvenile program, gets most of its funding from county general funds, and because of the county’s current budget problems, it is likely the adult program will be seeing more cuts in the near future, Meyer said.
The county is considering all reasonable methods to attempt to cut spending to address a projected 19 million dollar deficit for next year, said assistant county administrator Pat Leary.
As with state budget shortfalls, the county’s budget has been stressed by the economy and decreased tax revenue, Leary said.
The county has been working with departments to identify areas where money can be saved, she said. This process includes asking that departments leave nonessential positions vacant.
That is exactly what happened when one probation officer from the adult program retired.
Chief probation officer Meyer said the probation department must deal with and prepare for the cuts likely to come.
“[Smaller budgets] equate into substantial cuts for everybody and public safety hasn’t been exempted from that,” Meyer said. “It is a reality that budgets are going to get worse before they get better.“
JON GJERDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.