HandsOn Santa Clarita helps create countywide oversight for community service

HandsOn Santa Clarita volunteers work at some of the voluntary, non-court-ordered community service the organization takes part in during National Volunteer Week. HandsOn works with L.A. County's court system to network nonprofit service organizations with volunteers who are required to complete community service. Courtesy photo

L.A. County officials are looking to change the oversight for court-ordered community service, after a Santa Clarita nonprofit reached out with concerns over fraudulent and negligent practices from other agencies that administer the service.

HandsOn Santa Clarita, which coordinates more than 200,000 hours of community service in and around the SCV each year, started the process of seeking additional countywide regulation about two years ago.

“We’ve always had a wonderful working relationship with the County of Los Angeles,” said Seema Shah, executive director of HandsOn Santa Clarita, which was one of the agencies that brought the concerns to the county’s attention, “and will continue to work closely with the CDC and offer our assistance in developing and maintaining standardized protocol.”

The Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles (CDC) announced a three-year funding agreement with the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee (CCJCC) to implement the Court-Referred Community Service (CRCS) Program at 24 courthouses throughout Los Angeles County, including Santa Clarita and San Fernando, which handle the vast majority of Santa Clarita Valley’s court-ordered community service.

Community service provides an alternative sentencing option in lieu of fines and/or incarceration for individuals who are convicted of infractions or misdemeanors. And individuals who choose to perform community service in a matter before the court can contact one of 10 community service referral agencies. For Santa Clarita Valley residents, the largest provider is HandsOn Santa Clarita.

The community service referral agencies are the agencies that network individuals who are assigned community service with the nonprofit agencies that allow them to complete the service. Referral agencies like HandsOn use a process to select which nonprofit agencies are ones they can send volunteers to.

These referral agencies charge a court-approved fee, arrange the performance of community service at a non-profit organization, and review and assist the participants in reporting to the Court the hours of community service performed. HandsOn Santa Clarita is a registered 501c3 nonprofit.

However, due to a previous lack of regulation regarding the community service referral agencies, as well as to a certain degree, the nonprofit organizations that are outlets for the court-ordered service, there have been numerous concerns about fraud — to the point where the courts have considered dropping community service as an option, according to county officials.

The benefits of more oversight are actually three-fold, Shah said.

“Regardless of the agency in which the client is referred to, they will be able to complete their community service to the fullest extent as mandated by the courts and in a timely manner that doesn’t inconvenience them,” she said. “And the courts can depend on the fact that their orders are being carried out legally and legitimately by all referring agencies.”

The program also helps the nonprofit organizations that receive community service volunteers Shah added, noting that only those that comply with required protocol will be allowed to participate.

The program also helps the nonprofit organizations themselves, Shah added, noting that if the programs don’t comply with certain requirements, they are in danger of losing their status as one of the court-approved service provides.

Shah said the concerns regarding widespread fraud were not directly affecting any of the Santa Clarita Valley nonprofits that HandsOn is working with; however, she did note that in the past, her organization has had to sever ties with organizations that did not follow proper procedures.

The new list and county officials confirmed HandsOn Santa Clarita’s status as one of the approved service providers, officials said Tuesday.

The newly implemented CRCS Program addresses the Court’s concerns regarding community service as an alternative sentencing option, as well as the need to monitor the community service providers.

The oversight model was taken from what the CDC currently uses to monitor court-approved traffic schools, according to CDC Acting Executive Director Monique King-Viehland.

“This was an opportunity to take that existing infrastructure and apply it to the court-referred community service providers program,” she said, “and just continue to expand our partnership with the courts.”

The CRCS Program will institute uniform standards for community service referral agencies, including common fee schedules, insurance requirements, and forms to report completed service hours to the Court.

“Community service is a vital criminal justice program,” King-Viehland said. “We are proud to partner with the CCJCC and the Courts to ensure it remains a reliable replacement for exorbitant fines or incarceration.”

For information about how to volunteer with Hands On Santa Clarita, contact the organization at (661) 257-1997, or online by clicking here.

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