Exemplary adult and juvenile justice system leaders throughout California were recognized for their community contributions with awards from the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC). Awardees were celebrated for their dedication to the rehabilitation of adults and youth working to live independent, healthy lives away from the criminal justice system.
“The work of community supervision and rehabilitation to improve sustainable community safety is a team effort, which is why I’m honored to present awards to leaders who have gone above and beyond to serve our communities and the individuals under our care,” said Chief Brian Richart, President of CPOC. “Probation serves a pivotal role for individuals in our care as we deliver and connect our probation clients to the services and supports they need to take control of their lives and never go back into the system. This work is not about numbers or a formula, it is about relationships with each individual and determining how best to support each person. We are dedicated to using our trained experts to help with a transformation that benefits the individual and ultimately our communities.”
Each year, the Committee chooses one Probation employee from all the award winners, and this year’s statewide CPOC Employee of the Year is Steve Adami (full bio below) from San Francisco – Adult Probation. Steve epitomizes the work of Probation as an individual who is fully rehabilitated after decades of going in and out of the system, and now advocates for reentry and homeless services in San Francisco. The CPOC Awards Committee evaluated local county submissions and selected awardees throughout California that have demonstrated exceptional leadership, enthusiasm, and passion for their work.
“I’m honored to be the recipient of the President’s Award from the Chief Probation Officers of California, an organization that values access to justice,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court. “Probation is an essential part of the work we do in our justice system and the work being done to improve communities and families will help build long-term change for California.
Below, are just a few of the awardees selected. If you would like more information about an awardee or for interviews, please contact Laura Dixon at [email protected].
California Supreme Court Justice | Tani Cantil-Sakauye
This year the Chief Probation Officers of California bestowed Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court with the President’s Award, a rare honor presented only under exceptional circumstances for a true visionary whose transformative impact on the justice system makes for a California that is safer, fairer and more equitable for all. Sworn into office on January 3, 2011, and presiding since then over the most significant changes to the justice system California has ever seen, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye has led the judicial branch – indeed all branches of government – toward a system that is more accessible for all Californians, regardless of wealth or status. She has embraced innovation, pushed Courts to look to the future, and paved the way for a justice system that is markedly different than the one she entered into when she began her career as a deputy district attorney in 1984. She truly embodies our Association’s spirit of “leading the change.”
REGIONAL EMPLOYEES OF THE YEAR & CPOC EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR:
BAY REGION: Steve Adami | San Francisco County – Adult Probation
Steve Adami knows first-hand the critical importance of effective, evidence-based reentry and rehabilitative supervision services provided by Probation. After spending over 20 years addicted to drugs while in and out of jails and prison, Steve got clean and sober with the guidance of Probation’s redemptive work. After being released from prison in 2010, he earned a master’s degree in Public Administration, was inducted into a National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration, and received the Barbara Jordan Award for Academic Excellence from San Francisco State University. In 2014 he was hired by the San Francisco Adult Probation Department, promoted to a managerial position, and assumed the Interim Director position in February 2020. Throughout his employment, Steve has advocated for client services and has been a driving force in building collaborative partnerships with our criminal justice colleagues and our community stakeholders. As a balanced voice for both rehabilitation and accountability, Steve has earned the respect of the community, elected officials and has gained the trust of our sworn probation staff through his willingness to roll up his sleeves and provide the support necessary to produce positive outcomes.
TIM FITZHARRIS AWARD:
Kelly Jermaine Turner | Merced County
This recognition award is given to a non-probation employee who has made a very significant contribution to the field of public safety. Author and life coach Kelly Jermaine Turner is a former “resident” of Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California, where she served 13 years of a 25 years-to-life sentence as a part of the state’s Three Strikes Law. She received this sentence after forging a $146.16 check to a department store. The normal maximum sentence for her crime was three years. However, because it was Ms. Turner’s third strike for a non-violent offense, she was required to serve a minimum of 25 years before she was eligible for parole consideration. However, on September 8, 2009, after a three-year appeal effort by her pro-bono legal team, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that Ms. Turner had been “over sentenced.” Shortly after her release, Ms. Turner authored two books, The Art of Frowns to Smiles and The P.O.W.E.R Process (Positive Objects & Words Equals Results). Ms. Turner wrote both books while simultaneously forming her 501(c)(3) Symple Equazion, lnc. Symple Equazion facilitates cognitive behavioral therapy groups using the books authored by Ms. Turner. Both books consist of the steps Ms. Turner took to transform her life. These documented steps allow her to reach youth on court-supervised release in a unique manner.
JUDICIAL OFFICER OF THE YEAR AWARD:
Honorable Kenneth J. Gnoss | Sonoma County
This recognition award is given to a judicial officer who has contributed or provided leadership in community corrections. It is appropriate to notably recognize the Honorable Gnoss’s demonstrated commitment to collaboration, steady leadership, and the positive impact his thoughtful application of the law has on the lives of youth and families in our community. Since 2017, Sonoma County has been plagued by multiple disasters. Throughout the chaos and devastation, Judge Gnoss has remained steadfast in his commitment to ensuring the rights of youth and families, as well as those of victims, are preserved. He is a capable problem solver who often collaborated with Probation, bringing his experience and leadership to bear in formulating solutions to the many challenges brought about by the closure of the Juvenile Justice Center, such that the youth and families who are experiencing great turmoil in their lives are still served in a thoughtful and timely manner. With each disaster, he has proven himself adaptable to unprecedented circumstances, capably performing his judicial duties. Even when our youth are spread across multiple counties due to evacuations, Judge Gnoss vigorously ensures each youth gets their day in Court, even if it is virtual. One of the most notable characteristics of Judge Gnoss’ judicial behavior is the humanizing connection he makes with youth who appear in his Court, and the genuine interest he takes in each youth’s journey along the path of rehabilitation.
CPOC AWARD OF EXCELLENCE:
Juan Damian | Riverside County
This recognition award is given to a probation employee who has made significant contributions that have had a statewide or far-reaching impact on probation.
Juan Damian has spent the last 20 years of his career shaping the lives of the young people in our community as a stellar Probation Correctional Officer at Indio Juvenile Hall. Since day one, Mr. Damian has demonstrated unwavering levels of dedication and commitment to both the Riverside County Probation Department and the youth he has sworn to serve. To that end, he embodies the essence of the California Probation Officers Award of Excellence as he has made significant contributions to the youth in his care. Currently, the juvenile justice system is undergoing a historic transformation. Mr. Damian has been at the forefront of this change and is resolute in creating a culture that is focused on positive youth development. In addition to Mr. Damian’s primary assignment, he has willing, without hesitation, to take on the graduate program at Indio Juvenile Hall. He immediately assessed the needs and interests of our youth and began interfacing with representatives from Riverside Community College and College of the Desert to design a program tailored to them. Currently, 10 youth have committed to a seven-week program where they will receive an introduction to college, develop soft skills, and focus on career development.
REGIONAL EMPLOYEES OF THE YEAR:
SOUTH REGION: Melinda Cross | Ventura County
Melinda Cross oversees the Ventura County’s Probation Agency’s Juvenile Court Services Division, which includes Juvenile Investigations, Placement Unit, and Juvenile Intake/Community Confinement. Her advocacy for the youth we serve crosses through all areas of the justice system and service disciplines. As she often says, “I will not allow our system to criminalize mental health.” To this point, she often challenges criminal filings, pre-and post-adjudicated custody commitments, and inadequate community services for our youth suffering from mental health issues and their families who need ongoing support. Melinda is the most vocal advocate for youth, which typically results in more individualized and comprehensive service case plans. Although she impacts many case outcomes, one recent case, in particular, is when she had worked tirelessly with the Public Defender’s Office and against the tides of behavioral health and child welfare professionals to facilitate the placement release of a 16-year-old youth living with autism (5-year-old functionality) and severe history of mental and physical abuse, whose crime was a direct result of his mental health illness. Her leadership and youth advocacy have led to the Agency-wide expansion of Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings being applied throughout the Juvenile Services Bureau.
The Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), is an association of all 58 counties with a shared identity as law enforcement leaders. CPOC is committed to a research-based approach to public safety that promotes positive behavior change. Their leadership guides policy and practice in the areas of prevention, community-based corrections, secure detention for youth, and direct human services. CPOC’s goal is to prevent crime and delinquency, reduce recidivism, restore victims, and promote healthy families and communities.
For more information about CPOC, please go to www.cpoc.org.