Critics say it is harmful to put youth as young as middle school students who never committed a crime under the supervision of probation officers. Those running the program defend it.
The controversial Los Angeles County youth probation program known by critics as “probation lite” is scheduled to be shut down partially by April 1, with the rest of the program likely to be shuttered by the end of the school year in June, reports WitnessLA.com. Youth advocates expressed both relief and optimism at the news about the voluntary program, which puts at-risk children who have never broken the law under the supervision of probation officers. Patricia Soung of the Children’s Defense Fund-California said, “The fact that youth as young as middle school are being introduced to probation officers without any court-ordered probation involvement is a poor allocation of resources and potentially harmful for the young people involved.”
Many rank-and-file probation officers and their supervisors believe it is a mistake to do away with the “WIC 236” program (in reference to a section of California’s Welfare and Institutions Code). Both sides want to know what will be done with the state funding dollars that have been allocated to support the program. As of April 2016, nearly 85 percent of the youth on voluntary probation supervision were referred for some kind of school-related issue such as poor attendance, sliding grades, behavior in class or overall performance at school. Only a small percentage were referred for more serious reasons, like drug involvement, anger issues or fighting with parents. A report last year said that justice system contact “can be ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.” Citing a 2009 study, the report said that being on probation, “which involves more contact with misbehaving peers, in counseling groups or even in waiting rooms at probation offices, raised teens’ odds of adult arrest by a factor of 14.”