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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 4:16 pm | A Few Clouds 66º


New Probation Chief Guadalupe Rabago Wants Department to ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder’

Sworn in on Tuesday, he comes to Santa Barbara County with decades of experience from San Diego and Imperial counties

Guadalupe “Lupe” Rabago was sworn in Tuesday as the new chief probation officer for Santa Barbara County. On Monday, he toured some Probation Department facilities.
Guadalupe “Lupe” Rabago was sworn in Tuesday as the new chief probation officer for Santa Barbara County. On Monday, he toured some Probation Department facilities.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Guadalupe Rabago said he'd never considered a career in probation until he spotted an advertisement in the San Diego Union-Tribune, looking for applicants at the county's probation department.

After deciding to go for it, Rabago was chosen to be a deputy officer for the County of San Diego Probation Department, and discovered it was "a people kind of job," and that he enjoyed hearing people's stories and helping them be successful after time in custody.

Helping those who have been incarcerated begin their lives afresh will be at the top of his agenda as he begins work as Santa Barbara County's chief probation officer.

Rabago was sworn in Tuesday to replace Beverly Taylor, who retired Jan. 8.

He's coming from the Imperial County's Probation Department, where he worked as assistant chief probation officer since 2012 and was recently appointed as interim chief to fill in when their chief retired in November. 

Now he'll be working to oversee Santa Barbara County's Probation Department, which supervises about 4,000 adults and 600 juveniles.

In an interview with Noozhawk on Monday, Rabago talked about his priorities for the department. 

"I'm big on officer safety, following best practices and also a department culture that rewards integrity," he said.

Rabago also describes himself as a "techie," and said he wants to make probation work easier to do remotely.

For example, online reporting works for some people on probation who are considered low-risk, and having them check in online could be all they need, he said.

"We want probation to work smarter and not harder," he said.

After the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, Guadalupe Rabago, center, is joined by deputy chief probation officers Steve DeLira, Tanja Heitman and Lee Bethel and administrative deputy director Damon Fletcher. (County of Santa Barbara photo)

The experience of working with offenders and wanting them to be successful is a powerful one, and the field has changed for the better over the last 10 years, he said.

"It used to be 'lock them up and throw away the key,' but we know that doesn't work," he said. "As a probation department, we are trying to change things and have different outcomes."

Rabago began working for San Diego County in 1999, where he began as a deputy probation officer and moved up the ranks while working on several juvenile programs and a pilot program that helped develop collaboration for shared resources.

Rabago said he's worked in a large department, at the County of San Diego with a department of 2,000 employees, and a smaller one with his experience in Imperial County, which has about 115 staff members. 

"It's good to be somewhere in the middle," he said of Santa Barbara County Probation, which has about 350 employees.

Rabago said that there are many similarities between Santa Barbara County and Imperial's probation department, which also had a day reporting center, juvenile hall and was dealing with Assemly Bill 109 impacts.

He joined Imperial County a year after AB 109 was passed, in the throes of the department trying to figure out the caseloads, which didn't affect Imperial County as much as larger places.

"In bigger counties, you're filling those caseloads with officers that are brand new off the streets," he said.

Many AB 109 offenders are people with multiple cases and they may be more experienced in circumventing their court orders, so officers with more experience become crucial, he said.

Rabago grew up in Turlock and attended UC Riverside, where he majored in political science. He also earned a master’s degree in public administration from National University in San Diego.

His wife Kelly and their two children Samira, 10, and Andrew, 8, will stay in San Diego until the end of the school year, when they'll join Rabago in Santa Barbara County.

"They're excited for the opportunity, too," he said.

One thing plaguing all California counties is how to deal with juvenile populations, and Rabago said the county could partner with surrounding San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties to share resources.

One of his first priorities is getting to know the Santa Barbara County employees and their expertise, adding that former chief Beverly Taylor "has an excellent management team."

He got a tour of Juvenile Hall on Monday morning, and was able to introduce himself to staff on his first day of work.

"I look forward to celebrating a lot of successes with some great people," he said.

There are many changes happening in the probation world with more offenders leaving jail now able to enroll in health insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

That's important, because people court ordered to substance abuse programs and the like would have no way to pay for them after being released, Rabago said. 

"We had no way to enforce that," he said, adding that the ACA has "opened up a big opportunity."  

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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