Julie Wherry would like to work herself out of a job. As assistant chief probation officer for Sacramento County, she wants more people to understand that the dedicated officers and staff she works with are there to support the men, women and juveniles they supervise. Contrary to popular belief, she says the department’s focus is on getting people back on their feet instead of looking for ways to punish them further.
“We are in the profession of supporting positive change. We provide a lot of preventative services as well as a lot of support services,” she says. “We don’t want individuals on probation. … We want to provide opportunities for individuals to be successful so they don’t return to the system. Simultaneously, public safety is the No. 1 priority in our department, we want to keep the community safe, we want to be able to prevent victims.”
Together with county agencies like Behavioral Health, Child, Family and Adult Services and multiple community-based organizations, Sacramento County Probation Department provides supervision and support for those on probation, oftentimes taking proactive measures to ensure people are able to access the help they need and not return back into the system. Support includes connections to:
- Housing and transitional living services
- Educational programs such as earning a GED/high school diploma or trade school
- Employment services
- Help applying for benefits, including General Assistance, Medi-Cal, CalFresh, Social Security, veterans’ benefits and CalWORKS
- Mental and behavioral health services such as residential programs, counseling, anger management, drug and alcohol treatment, art therapy, trauma-informed clinical services, individual and group support for adults, juveniles and their families
- Health care services, including dental and vision
- Tattoo removal services
- Foster care and resource family support
- Record sealing and expungements
The goal of having such a wide array of supportive services is to keep people out of jail, Wherry explains. Returning to jail can interrupt and affect employment, education and upend families, all of which can inadvertently force people back into the system.
“Here’s the reality: They’re going to come back out. They’re not getting the support services in jail as much as they would get if they were outside,” she says. “It’s a continuous cycle, so how do we change the outcome?”
To that end, Sacramento County Probation Department has invested in some innovative solutions to reduce recidivism rates, including:
- The Jail Diversion Treatment & Resource Center works with clients before sentencing for misdemeanors offenses to connect them with support services in lieu of serving time.
- Mobile Outreach units to bring probation to clients, particularly unhoused clients, and to overcome transportation issues and prevent failures to report.
- The Vera Institute’s Ending Girls’ Incarceration Grant will not only help divert girls already in the system away from detention, but also seeks to provide supportive services to prevent others from ending up there in the first place. It’s a program that’s already found success in Santa Clara County.
“We hold individuals accountable and provide opportunities,” Wherry says. “These are individuals, yes, who have committed crimes, but they are humans and we’ve shown them a different way of life.”
For more information on Sacramento County Probation Department and the support and services they provide, visit http://saccoprobation.saccounty.gov or call 916-875-0273.