Interview with Alameda County Chief Probation Officer Wendy Still
DSAL’s revolutionary approach to public safety, called Community Capitals Policing, is made possible through deep, authentic partnerships with county agencies and departments that are aligned in the desire to fundamentally change the system to improve the lives of Alameda County residents. One of our most important partnerships is with the County’s Probation Department, where we work together to provide employment and learning opportunities for justice-involved youth and adults at Dig Deep Farms and in the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub.
We recently spoke to Alameda County’s Chief Probation Officer, Wendy Still, to learn more about the Probation Department’s partnership with the ACSO and DSAL. We also discussed how she began to recognize the importance of food as an element of the Probation Department’s responsibility to improve the lives of its clients.
The Probation Department is a champion of Dig Deep Farms and ALL IN Alameda County’s Food as Medicine and Local Circular Food Economy initiatives and has awarded grants to DSAL through their Community Capacity Fund. The capacity building funds have been used to support the construction of the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub and also to purchase 11 food delivery vehicles.
The partnership has also created jobs for clients of the Probation Department at Dig Deep Farms and through the DDF Food Hub, including 13 food delivery jobs, five (5) paid urban farm internships, and nine (9) paid youth internships.
Although the jobs and internships are vital, the clients also benefit from the education they receive at Dig Deep Farms, according to Still.
“The focus on Food as Medicine provides a learning aspect for our clients,” said Still. “They’re learning how important it is to their own health to have access to healthy food, because it’s not just about justice. It’s not just about education. It’s also about a healthy mind, body, and soul.”
“We have a responsibility to help our clients be productive, successful community members.”
– Wendy Still, MAS, Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County Probation Department
“I wasn’t always in a position like this. I was incarcerated for 15 months of my life. I came out here with the mindset that I wanted something different. I’m making sure that I’m healing my community and making sure people get food.”
– Patrick Worrell-Facey, Shift Lead Driver, Dig Deep Farms
“It was through the partnership at Dig Deep Farms that all those different linkages came together in terms of providing resources and having our employment partners provide training and then pay wages for the drivers and urban farmers,” she said.
“What we are trying to do is create a pathway for clients to succeed, and the partnership with Dig Deep Farms provides one of the pathways,” she said. “It's not just about earning money. It also builds their self-esteem and their self-efficacy, which is part of their rehabilitation.”
“We have a responsibility to help our clients be productive, successful community members,” said Still. “Part of that is providing a pathway for the individual to achieve success, and that looks like job training. That looks like education and skills-building. It not only prepares the individual to be self-sufficient; it prepares them to be self-sufficient within the community. And being economically stable is a really important part of being successful in the community.”
Chief Still credits Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors for creating a spirit of innovation within county government.
As a result of the Board’s leadership, the Probation Department was able to invest $9 million in AB 109 funds through the Community Capacity Fund into local community-based non-profit organizations providing services for the justice involved and reentry clients. These funds were used as grants to build the capacity of non-profit organizations, so they are better able to provide services to the reentry population in Alameda County.
(California voters passed Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109), the California Public Safety Realignment Act, in 2011 to divert people convicted of certain felonies from being incarcerated in state prison.)
“No other county has dedicated 50 percent of their AB 109 funding to invest in community-based organizations for client services,” said Still.
“We as department heads have the freedom to create and utilize technology, to utilize different theories, to implement them, and to take and create a best practice that ultimately turns into an evidence-based practice,” she said. “In the Probation Department, we have incorporated evidence-based practices into the way we think about delivering services.” Clients’ needs are at the forefront of all our programming.
“There’s a whole paradigm shift,” said Still. “That innovative spirit and vision of justice reform and incorporating evidence-based practices into daily operations and client services is being supported by foundations, the federal government, in terms of federal grants, and by state grants that are available. “The whole country is watching the innovative justice reforms and the results of creative partnerships in Alameda County, and we (Sheriff and Probation) are doing some amazing things together as a county, not just as one agency.”