The Evidence-Based Justice Services Organization

Interview with John Keene, Chief Probation Officer, San Mateo County Probation Department 

1. Can you summarize the work of your agency, in terms of the target population served, geographic area, and types of services provided

The San Mateo County Probation Department has the honor of serving the citizens of San Mateo County, California by providing services to individuals placed on supervision by the Superior Court of San Mateo County. Our mission is to enhance community safety, reduce crime, and assist the victims of crime through offender accountability and rehabilitation. To achieve our mission we provide a variety of direct services to offenders as well as through contracts with community based organizations and other governmental agencies.


2. How long have you worked in your current position, and can you summarize your employment background?

I have had the honor of leading our department as Chief Probation Officer for four years. I worked as a police officer for a decade in the state of Louisiana. My diverse local law enforcement experience included Corrections, Patrol, Investigations and Community Policing. In 1996, I moved to California and shortly thereafter began my career in Community Corrections with the Alameda County Probation Department. During my time with Alameda County, I held progressively challenging positions ultimately rising to the position of Deputy Chief Probation Officer.

3. How does your agency incorporate evidenced-based approaches (i.e., policies, programs, and practices), and what have been your most successful efforts with becoming evidence-based?

We strive to incorporate EBP approaches in a fashion that is consistent with the “Integrated Model” approach where we connect evidenced based principles, organizational development, and collaboration. By doing this, it has allowed our department to set a standard in our county for policy development and program procurement. The expectation of all those we work with is that EBP must be a part of our collaboration. I would say that helping to change the “culture” in our county about service delivery has been our most successful accomplishment.

4. What have been the main challenges your agency has experienced with becoming evidence-based, and how have you overcome these challenges?

The main, most consistent challenge has been overcoming resistance, internally and externally, toward changing our approach to community corrections. Probation has been an industry of “teachers and tellers” for a very long time. Transitioning to a “client-centered” approach has been slow but steady. We have worked through these challenges by remaining consistent in our message about the importance of EBP and, most importantly, showing that strong EBP enhances public safety not jeopardizes it.

5. How has becoming a Certified Evidence-Based Organization (CEBO) benefited your agency?

Becoming a CEBO has benefited our organization by “clearly” signaling to those we work with what our values are and what is required if you collaborate with us. It has also raised our standing with our Board of Supervisors and Law Enforcement partners.

6. How do you see the work of your agency changing or evolving in the future?

I see our agency focusing on more preventative work for both adults and juveniles moving forward. We will use the lessons learned from our EBP programs to decide where we use our resources. I also see more emphasis being placed on data driven decision making across all disciplines in community corrections.

7. What advice can you provide to other similar agencies that wish to become more evidence-based?

Learn from others! The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that you have to reinvent the wheel in your jurisdiction. Also, do not be afraid to fail. Just make sure to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them.

8. Anything else you would like to add for the benefit of our readers?

I would simply like to express my sincere appreciation to Joyfields Institute. With their help, we have raised the level of service to those we supervise by providing better rehabilitative opportunities, increasing public safety, and accountability to victims.


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