By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
In his role as chief probation officer of Placer County, Marshall Hopper frequently gets stopped by people in the community. He often braces himself to hear something negative, as probation officers aren’t typically anyone’s favorite people.
The feedback, however, has been positive, Hopper says, from those being served by his department’s mobile outreach vehicle.
“I’ve had people stop me and go, ‘I’ve never been treated like that before’ and I’m going, ‘What are you talking about?’ Or ‘Oh, no. They did something wrong.’ But people are like, ‘No, they treated me like a human being.’”
Sacramento County’s probation chief, Marlon Yarber, wants similar results. Yarber and other county officials recently announced receipt of grant money allowing them to purchase five mobile outreach vehicles of their own. The vehicles will aid the department in helping locals on probation overcome barriers that impact their ability to make mandated appointments and access other services.
Sacramento is one of 25 probation departments in California receiving grant funding in 2023. With $1.3 million, the local department got the third largest amount, behind Los Angeles County ($2.1 million) and Riverside County ($1.7 million).
Homeless individuals often commit low-level offenses and then end up with warrants, Johnson says.
“That warrant gets really stagnant because they can’t get to their court dates,” he explained. “When you’re living in a field, you’re not remembering that today is Thursday and that you’re supposed to be in court.”
“What we’re finding is they then get stopped by local police and the local police go, ‘I’m not going to take you to jail, here’s another promise-to-appear. And then they miss that one and the next one and all of a sudden, they’ve got 10 warrants stacked up.”
Having warrants can be dangerous for African Americans, Black men particularly, as they’re often used to justify stops and other interactions that are, quite frankly, unwarranted. Some of those interactions have fatal outcomes. “Driving while Black” is still a thing, as demonstrated by an October 2022 report from Catalyst California and the ACLU of Southern California that found Blacks in Sacramento County are over 4.5 times more likely to be pulled over for traffic violations than whites. Many add other words like “shopping,” “dining,” “traveling,” “breathing” and “struggling” in front of “while Black to call attention to just how pervasive racism remains nationally.
The Re-entry and Housing Coalition says homelessness can be both “a cause and consequence of having a criminal record.” According to the group, more than 25% of people experiencing homelessness report being arrested for activities that are a direct result of their homelessness, such as sitting, lying down or sleeping in public.