The Sacramento County Probation Department’s DUI Program is a one-stop shop. It not only supervises probationers, it helps them find treatment, housing, mental health resources and an array of classes and services. It is a good example of the department’s mission to Support Positive Change, which prioritizes rehabilitation and has yielded a noticeable difference in client outcomes.
The staff’s personal involvement with clients ranges from getting probationers a meal to attending graduations or even meeting former clients’ children. The work the department does can be life-changing for those who complete their probation—and can ultimately help them succeed in ways they never expected.
“In the past, the direction that was taken was more focused on a punitive mindset, but with our new approach, we are still holding people accountable but we are also trying to set them up for success through rehabilitation and assistance through our resources and community partners,” says Nicole De La Riva, Deputy Probation Officer with the DUI Court. “There are rules to follow that we hold probationers accountable for, but incarceration is not the only thing we do. We have our own programs and plenty of other resources to help meet our probationers’ needs. I think that many people we supervise can be misguided if the only thing we do is implement punishment by incarceration. We know that our job is to put them back in jail for violating their probation restrictions, but we also do so much more outreach and follow through with helping them. What we actually do is evaluate alternatives to incarceration and use jail only as a last resort.”
Because of the new direction the department has taken, De La Riva says she has seen more positive results from many probationers she has supervised. For example, involvement with the DUI court tasks probationers with attending classes and treatment groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and she says many of her probationers are thankful for programs like these.
“We give them all these different tools, but we don’t expect them to be perfect and if they do fail or have some bumps along the way, we are there to pick them up and help show them that there are people in their life that care,” Del La Riva explains. “I feel their outlook on probation changes a bit once they realize that we do care and want them to succeed and we are not out to get them like we are often portrayed to be.”
Del La Riva is a 22-year veteran of the department and began her career in the juvenile division. She moved to the Adult Community Corrections Division, then began working with the DUI Courts two years ago. She says that coming from a Hispanic background and having a father who was an addict motivated her to go into law enforcement. Despite the fact her perception of law enforcement was not positive when she was growing up—but she was determined to make an impact on the system by joining it and changing it for the better from within. She believes a lot of the officers that work for the probation department are in it for the right reasons and that the new positive approach is making a significant difference.
“One of my graduates texted me a picture of his first paycheck and it was more than $2,000,” De La Riva says. “He told me he had never made this amount of money ever before in his life—and he had previously been sleeping on couches with his kids. This was the first time he was able to provide an apartment for himself and his children with money he received from a job. When you have those moments, you realize this is what I have been working so hard to do and it feels rewarding to be able to help get lives back on track for success. These positive outcomes motivate me to want to continue to do my job.”