Five Questions with Judy Garcia, Director of Probation Services, District Court

Judy Garcia1. What was your first role at King County and how did you progress to Director of Probation Services? I began as a Volunteer for the Federal Way District Court Probation Department in 1982, while working for the Weyerhaeuser Company. During my time as a volunteer, I enjoyed interviewing defendants about life problems and writing pre-sentence reports much more than I enjoyed talking with sawmill managers about log inventories, and writing competitor analysis reports. I found working in the criminal justice system, rather than in the timber industry, to be highly interesting and very satisfying.  I instantly knew the work was a perfect fit for my personality and skill set and my commitment hasn’t wavered in my 30 years on the job. My employment with Weyerhaeuser was terminated during a major round of timber industry layoffs, and with a severance, I was able to continue the volunteer work until I was hired in the summer of 1983 to job share the half time Volunteer Coordinator position. I became a Probation Officer II (a supervisor with a full caseload) when a full-service probation branch office was opened in Federal Way in 1986 and continued in that capacity for Federal Way and other locations for approximately 20 years. I became the Probation Services Director in May of 2009, after serving 18 months as Acting Director in two non-consecutive stints.

2. What do you do as Director of Probation Services for District Court?   Probation provides pre- and post-sentence investigations, to include in-custody interviews and  monitors compliance with conditions of sentencing for misdemeanant offenders, primarily high-impact and repeat DUI offenders, those convicted of violent offenses, and those in need of drug, alcohol and/or mental health treatment. Services are provided for state cases in unincorporated areas of King County as well as the King County Domestic Violence Court, Regional Mental Health Court, Regional Veteran’s Court, and 12 cities that contract for the full array of District Court Services.  Currently we have four probation mental health specialists and 12 probation officers in five courthouse locations, supervised by two management positions, including me. As the Probation Director, I am responsible for all program and staff activity and supervise and train new officers and supervisory staff. My responsibility also involves evaluation of departmental activity, community trends for use in short and long-range planning, being a liaison with treatment agencies, coordinating public relations efforts, and representing Probation and/or the Court on agency, county, and state committees and task forces.

3. What do you like most about your job? I continue to feel privileged to be part of a system that can have such a positive impact on individuals and our communities. Despite significant changes and challenges, our probation officers continue to be dedicated, committed employees who not only believe they can make a positive difference, but do so, on a daily basis. Our staff are amazing public servants possessing integrity, compassion, and empathy, who model the high standards for which King County District Court is known. These officers annually provide direct services to over 3,000 offenders. The work that we do impacts not just the offenders, but also their victims, their families, their friends, their neighbors, and their employers. It is no exaggeration to say that we truly save lives. The supervision we provide allows us to enhance community and individual safety, ensure accountability, facilitate swift and certain consequences for non-compliance, and also respectfully challenge some offenders’ belief systems while helping them explore options for making better life decisions. It’s awesome to be part of this!

4. What is the  biggest challenge in your job? With limited staffing and financial resources, managing change while also balancing the many competing needs of the Probation Division is the biggest challenge of my position. I am currently directing  not only the day-to-day operations of the department but training newer staff and coordinating major projects. I’m fortunate to have such a dedicated team to assist with those challenges.

5. What is one of your top priorities for the remainder of 2014? King County District Court has embarked on a major project to launch a new Case Management System (CMS) which will have a probation module that is fully integrated with the Court system. A new CMS will enable the Court and Probation to streamline processes and take advantage of improved technology. When implemented, the new case/probation management systems will facilitate innovative and more efficient ways to supervise offenders and enhance public safety. At the same time, a new CMS will remove some of the barriers to success for offenders. Not only am I looking forward to working towards our Case Management System but continuing to collaborate with my staff for the remainder of 2014 and beyond.