Mike Daly, the chief probation officer in Marin County, believes in restorative justice, something he’s put into practice instead of talking about it.
During an interview with SQ News in January, Daly discussed pro-social thinking and how to “rewire’ people to be the best they can be after becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
“I want people to know that restorative justice does work, and there’s data to prove it,” said Daly. “It should be part of a forward thinking criminal justice system.”
To successfully undertake restorative justice as a model, he said, there has to be input from district attorneys, victims, offenders and other stakeholders.
In Marin County, “Cases are referred to the probation department for restorative justice only after being cleared by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and the Marin County Public Defender’s Office,” the Marin Independent Journal reported
For three years, Daly’s office has been innovative in its approach to criminal justice.
“I think I’m the first in Marin to hire someone to do restorative justice,” he said. “We offer that if the victim is okay with it. We want to be careful not to re-victimize…”
Citing some of the failures mass incarceration has produced over the last 30 years, Daly said a change in the culture of corrections needs to take place as well. He acknowledged the increase in California’s prison population didn’t happen overnight but said the legislature was asleep at the wheel for two decades.
Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison opened in the United States every 10 days,” wrote Bryan Stevenson, attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, in his book Just Mercy. “Prison growth and the resulting ‘prison-industrial complex’ – the business interests that capitalize on prison construction – made imprisonment so profitable that millions of dollars were spent lobbying state legislators…”
“We didn’t examine or make adjustments,” Daly said of the years California’s recidivism rate was at 70%.
He said it was there for a long time, and every year the state budget kept going up. Eventually a federal three-judge panel stepped in.
When that happened, the courts instructed California to reduce and maintain its state prison population at a cap of 137.5% of design capacity in order to deliver adequate medical care to all inmates.
Shortly thereafter, in 2011, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 109, Public Safety Realignment, and implemented it to manage the state’s unprecedented growth in its prison population.
Other significant reforms followed in California’s criminal justice landscape. Changes in the law such as Proposition 57 are changing the situation, he said, while admitting it’s not perfect, “but it’s a start.”
Daly said he’s worked with Ralph Diaz, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
They’ve established a Skype program that allows inmates headed for post-release community supervision (PRCS) to communicate with their probation officer before leaving state prison.
Daly was president of the Chief Probation Officers of California in 2014. According to the Marin County Probation Department website, “(former) Governor Brown had placed a tremendous amount of responsibility on the shoulders of probation departments across the state. You don’t do that unless you have trust and confidence in your partners.”
Daly said he felt that trust.
“We will work with Governor Newsom and hopefully create the same trusting bond that we had with Governor Brown,” the probation department website states.
“We’re not a ‘lock ‘em up county,’” said Daly. “I’m happy that Marin has adjusted to Realignment very well.”
He said all of its criminal justice leaders who voted to allocate funding feel that strong rehabilitative programs are the best for public safety.
Assembly Bill 109 provides funding for many of Marin County’s support systems such as finding shelter for those on probation.
“We will pay for that free, for the first six months,” said Daly.
Daly noted that Senate Bill 678 also provides funding for programs that offset prison.
“This bill was introduced around 2008, and it’s still active today,” he said.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program also funds Daly’s restorative justice service, the Independent Journal reported. Daly stressed that defendants who participate in this program are less likely to reoffend.
Daly was appointed as Chief Probation Officer in 2009 by the Board of Supervisors, but confessed he wasn’t ready to deal with the politics that came with the job. Since Realignment, the management of lower-level prisoners was shifted from the state prison and parole system to the county jail and probation system.
To promote justice, Daly said “We’re proposing that the age of jurisdiction for juveniles be 18 to 19,” citing the science behind brain development and the foundational reasoning that the brain is still in a stage of development between the ages 18 and 25.
“We all have our points of change,” said Daly. “What I’m trying to develop [in them] is intrinsic motivation. Sometimes guys don’t care about themselves so it’s hard to make those changes. When you make that move intrinsically you have a much higher likelihood of being successful.”
“I’ve seen guys who’ve turned the corner,” said Daly, adding “Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work on guys from the hood. You have much more success when you develop intrinsic motivation.”
Daly said statewide, 8% of those on PRCS violate their probation and return to prison, but in Marin County the number is 2%. “We’re considered a high performing county,” he said.
In 1990, Daly received his bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly in Social Science with a concentration in criminal justice—the same year he started his career with Marin Probation. In 1999 he earned a master’s degree in public administration from Golden Gate University.
“I’m super proud about (restorative justice) and I’m looking to expand,” said Daly. “I’d like people to know that we are the first department in California solely to conduct restorative justice for offender and victim. I’m pretty proud of the footprint we have in Marin.”