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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wanted: L A County Probation Department Job Applicants Who Are Not Criminals

     Since 2008, the federal government's monitoring of the Los Angeles County Probation Department's twenty juvenile offender camps hasn't done much good. The probation department came under federal scrutiny after years of serious problems with county personnel. During the past two years alone, 135 probation department employees have been fired after being charged with crimes. These offenses included assault, rape and child abuse. These terminations didn't include employees discharged for simple misconduct and poor work performance. For many of the probation employees charged with serious crimes, being arrested and hauled off to jail was not a new experience.

     Why were so many unfit probation workers on the job? The answer is simple: low hiring standards. The department would pretty much take anyone. If you were unfit for a job in the private sector, or had been rejected by the sheriff and police departments, the L A County Probation Department would take you. Welcome aboard.

     In an effort to staff the probation department with people who, at the very least are not criminals, the agency's chief, Jerry Powers, pursuant to an agreement with the U. S. Department of Justice, recently raised the department's hiring standards. But this has created a problem of its own: only ten to twenty percent of probation job applicants can live up to the new, albeit minimum, hiring standards. This has created a serious personnel shortage in the county's probation department.

     In the past, probation employment candidates convicted of violent crimes within the past seven years were considered unfit for the job. So, if an applicant had been convicted of beating his grandmother into unconsciousness eight years before applying for the job, he could get in. If this applicant, within the past seven years had been merely arrested six times for attacking his grandmother, no problem. Hey, we're all presumed innocent.

     Under the old hiring standards, applicants convicted of property crimes within the past five years were deemed unfit for probation work. But older convictions for crimes like burglary, arson, or grand theft were not a problem. Histories of illegal drug use, drunken driving, and prostitution were not considered, by themselves, reasons to disqualify a probation job candidate. (Employers are not even allowed to ask applicants if they are mentally ill or alcoholics.)

     Pursuant to the old system of filling probation department posts, job applicants did not undergo background checks, or submit to pre-employment polygraph examinations. That meant they were free to lie on their government job applications. And they did. Probation hiring personnel had no idea who they were putting on the job to deal with juvenile delinquents. It was, let's hire the guy and see what happens. Even for government work, this is substandard.

     Candidates for Los Angeles County Probation jobs are now screened if they have ever been convicted of violent or serious property crimes. However, convictions for minor employee theft, shoplifting, and recreational marijuana use, for L A County employment purposes, are still forgiven.

     Ralph Miller, the head of the public union that represents L A County Probation Department workers, has labeled the new hiring standards unreasonable and unfair to certain groups of people. (Yeah, criminals.) "If you're a poor person," he said, "or you're a person of color, you may have encountered some problem in your life...." Mr. Miller didn't specify what kind of "problem" should be forgiven for the purpose of hiring county probation employees. It seems that Mr. Miller's is more interested in finding unemployable people jobs than serving the public.


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