The central jail in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday discussed the future of adult and juvenile probation, receiving input from national experts on innovative methods to help people transition out of the system while also keeping communities safe.

Board members took no formal action during the nearly five-hour conference, held via teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said Tuesday’s meeting was a chance to “embrace tremendous opportunities for reform” and provide a network of support to young people.

“We want to look at new skills sets, training and take a holistic approach to what we’re doing,” he added.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer called the conference informative and helpful. “There’s no question we have a crisis in our justice system,” she said. “We have an opportunity to address the root causes of that crisis.”

Fletcher and other supervisors have highlighted criminal justice as part of a package of major reforms, known as “Framework for The Future.”

Scott Huizar, deputy chief at the county Probation Department, told supervisors on Tuesday that juvenile arrest rates have significantly declined, 79% over a 10-year period.

As of last week, 783 young people were on probation, with 155 young people detained in county facilities as of Monday night.

Since April 2017, the Probation Department shifted from a correctional model to one based on positive youth development, Huizar said. The goal is to help young people “not only exit the justice system, but reach their full potential,” he said.

Huizar said the department is working on improving living conditions for those in juvenile facilities, and better working conditions for employees.

Cesar Escuro, the county’s interim chief probation officer, said those paying their debt to society may have needs his department can’t meet — such as housing, education and employment — so it’s important to link them to services.

Escuro said his department will also conduct “listening sessions” and seek input from the community. “Probation is not static, and requires review,” he added.

Along with ways to improve the probation system, supervisors received an update on a new facility to house young offenders from Sandy McBrayer, CEO of the San Diego-based Children’s Initiative, which is working with the county.

McBrayer said the first phase of a youth transition campus in Kearny Mesa will feature 96 beds, vocational training, indoor/outdoor recreation, a garden, a separate dining hall, and a staff gym. The facility is scheduled to open this October.

The conference also included information on the search for a new county chief probation officer. Adolfo Gonzales, who held the job since 2016, left in January for the same position in Los Angeles County.

Supervisor Nora Vargas said she and her colleagues are excited about the search process, and “want to make sure this is community-based.”

— City News Service contributed to this article

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