Q&A:Sacramento County's new probation chief faces big challenge

By Brad Branan
By Brad Branan The Sacramento Bee
Published: Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B 

Lee Seale has advanced from jobs at three state agencies to his latest position as Sacramento County's chief probation officer, where he started last week.

Seale, 41, leads a county Probation Department with more than 600 employees, far fewer than a few years ago. Yet the department now faces more demands.

Sacramento and other California counties have started receiving lower-level offenders from state prisons. The offenders are more criminally sophisticated than the probationers for whom counties were previously responsible.

At the same time, budget cuts have decimated the department since the start of the recession. It has the smallest staff ratio of any urban probation department in California.

Seale previously held positions at the attorney general's office, the Office of the Inspector General and, most recently, at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

At the corrections agency, Seale was director of internal oversight and research and acting secretary of legislative affairs. A Sacramento Superior Court judge cited his work on the shift of offenders from state to county responsibility as a good reason to select him as chief probation officer.

Critics have said the county doesn't provide enough rehabilitation to offenders who previously would have gone to state prison. Should more be done?

The biggest challenge isn't the "post-release community supervision" people coming from the state. … My biggest focus is the 20,000 felony offenders under adult supervision. ... Far too few of them are actively supervised.

Still, do you think there is a greater need to provide drug treatment and other rehabilitation?

It's vital. Right now, we're not serving enough people. … Drug abuse really fuels a large amount of crime in Sacramento County.

(Seale later provided a copy of a recent federal study that found 40 percent of male arrestees booked into jail in Sacramento County tested positive for methamphetamine, compared with less than 1 percent in three other cities and 13 percent in Denver.)

Consecutive years of budget cuts make your department one of the most understaffed in the state. How will you persuade county supervisors to boost funding?

My goal is to show probation's value. … We live in an era when we have to describe our value, just like businesses. … We will talk about our recidivism rate and show how that relates to money and victimization. Having worked at corrections, I know a lot about the costs of incarceration versus keeping them out of jail.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My approach is one of collaboration. I see myself as a partner with the sheriff and the district attorney. I take the same approach with other county officials, such as the county executive.