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Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: Scott MacDonald, Santa Cruz Chief Probation Officer

In Episode #34, Santa Cruz Chief Probation Officer Scott MacDonald discusses reducing racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, partnering with the community, using data to drive decision-making, sustaining reforms through leadership transitions, and more. 

Scott MacDonald Interview Highlights

MacDonald on Partnering with the Community:

"We learned that working with a nonprofit that is close to the communities, and understands the conditions and the circumstances of the youth that we’re working with, can help us achieve better outcomes. So, as we went through the process of reducing our reliance on incarceration, and this is about a 60% reduction in the use of incarceration, and we were getting these young people out of the criminogenic conditions of a crowded juvenile hall, we were able to partner with community based agencies to do a myriad of things."

MacDonald on Impediments to Reform:

"What’s hard for people is sometimes to wrap their head around the notion that it’s OK to look critically at the system. And that while the justice system focuses on accountability of offenders, that that doesn’t mean that we are sort of off the hook in terms of examining ourselves for accountability.  And so I think the hard part is for people to accept a critical view of their own practices.  That’s the impediment."

MacDonald on Reserving Jail for Serious Offenders:

"Let’s reserve jail for the serious offenders, but if you’re a non-serious offender who can be put into an alternative program that quite likely will produce better outcomes in the long term in terms of recidivism reduction, that’s what we should be thinking about and doing."


The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek features in-depth, thirty-minute interviews with a wide range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials, policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and others.

The Podcast gets behind the sound bites that far too often dominate the public dialogue about criminal justice, to have detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Podcast host David Onek is a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and a former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission.

You can find more information on the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast and listen to all past episodes on the Podcast web site.

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