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Working for the county probation department, the largest in the nation, means being equal parts social worker and law enforcement

On a Tuesday morning in October, Los Angeles deputy probation officer Booker Waugh made his way down a nearly sheer hillside, just a few feet from the entrance to the 10 freeway heading east.

Waugh, 48, was conducting a field visit to one of his probationers, a man named Joshua Bey. Bey lives in the affluent neighborhood of Cheviot Hills not in a stately colonial house but in an orange tent, pitched between the freeway and a retaining wall, buffeted by old window blinds and a blanket decorated with kittens.

Hidden from the cars racing by below and the $2m homes above, Beys world is invisible unless you know where to look.


  • Waugh cruises the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.

Booker Waugh does. Waugh is an officer with the Los Angeles county probation department, the largest agency of its kind in the nation. It oversees more than 35,000 adults under community supervision, meaning probation or parole.

Twenty of Waughs 38 clients are homeless. We do this every day, Waugh says about the challenges of his work. You cant let hopelessness get the best of you.

More than 4.5 million people in the US were under community supervision in 2016, the last year for which the justice department has released data. Thats twice as many people as the number of people incarcerated, and a 239% increase since 1980, according to a study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

There isnt enough data on probation to determine the cause of this explosive growth with certainty, but we do know that the increase in probation has far outpaced any increase in crime. That suggests that departments have become more liberal with their use of probation. In the past few years, those liberal policies have been challenged by activists, scholars, and a remarkable number of top brass probation officials who aim to revamp what they view as a bloated, ineffective system.

But within individual departments, there are many probation officers like Waugh: drawn to the work because they want to help people who are struggling, and who see the job as equal parts social work and law enforcement.

Waugh, who has lived in south-central Los Angeles his entire life except for a stint attending the University of Hawaii, is a 15-year veteran of the probation department. Like most officers, he started his career in the county juvenile facilities.

I dont get an extra check for locking your ass up, Waugh says he tells new clients. Im here to work with you, Im here to help you. The less work I have to do the better.

Joshua Bey
  • Left: Waugh pays a visit to Joshua Beys encampment near the 10 freeway. Right: Joshua Bey in his tent, which is hidden between a hedge and a retaining wall.

On days when he goes into the field, Waugh sets out in the white Ford Taurus provided by the department, the radio tuned to a 90s hip hop station. He visits clients in their home, shelter, tent or place of work, if they have one, and tries to get a sense of how the client is navigating re-entry from lockup. Are they employed? Sober? Lucid? He asks them if they need anything he can help provide, from facilitating a ride to mental health services to providing train fare.

At a shelter in Santa Monica, Waugh meets a client of three months, Earl Love.

Loves hands tremble from Parkinsons disease and, like a significant amount of probationers in Los Angeles county, he has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Waugh visits him once a month, and has connected Love to a telecare medical team so he doesnt have to travel to get support.

Love was incarcerated for most of his 46 years, he says. Ive been in the struggle all my life.


  • Waugh visits Earl Love, 46, a client at a Santa Monica homeless shelter who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Later in the day, Waughs off to the jungle, the south-central Los Angeles neighborhood named after both its foliage and what Waugh calls its antics.

Hes visiting 55-year-old Derek Williams. Williams joined a gang in the late 1970s, but says hes done with that lifestyle. I dont carry guns anymore. I hear a car backfire, he mimics being startled. Im shell-shocked.

Williams says his probation has gone smoothly because he is unencumbered by mental health struggles and has been able to comply with probation rules, which are strict. Requirements vary. All probationers have to call in to a special phone line daily, report to their officers regularly, submit to drug tests when instructed and not carry weapons. Many must attend mental health or substance abuse classes. Some cant be around gang members if they have an injunction, others cant open a checking account if they were charged with fraud, still others cant access the internet unsupervised if they were charged with sexually assaulting a minor.

Those rules are there to help probationers, Waugh says, a safeguard to keep them from doing the same things again and again. Probationers can choose whether to follow them or not, he says. Still, he concedes, the rules stringency can be a setup for failure; if work hours coincide with required mental health treatment, for example, a probationer who skips the appointment to keep a job may end up back in jail.

The rules also make finding work challenging for those in re-entry under the best of circumstances even more difficult. Probationers may be told to come in to the office for a pop-up urine test with next to no notice, and given a narrow window of time within which to complete the test, though Waugh says they try to accommodate clients schedules.

Even for a probationer who truly wants to play by the rules and finish probation, its not easy. There are lots of barriers to being successful, Brian Lovins, the former assistant director of Harris county community supervision and corrections department and an advocate for probation reform, points out. People dont operate individually, theres a host of family and social systems that keep them pressured into where they are in the world.





  • Top left: Derek Williams peers out of the window in his apartment building. Top right: Jeffrey Chenevert, a truck driver and entrepreneur, visits the west LA office. Bottom left: Jarrad Durke, a homeless US Navy veteran, is at the west LA office for his monthly check-in. Bottom right: EarlLove shows off his photography.

Like most other probation officers in what Waugh calls inner-city Los Angeles, he currently has close to twice the number of clients he is supposed to manage. This means he gets less time than hed like with clients, and he has to make some choices about where to direct his energy.

You tend to drift toward the guys who want to help themselves versus the guys who keep getting arrested over and over, Waugh says. You have to decipher who wants my help and who is just here because they got put on probation out of jail.

Today, however, he passes the time in his cubicle, surrounded by Lakers paraphernalia and a Colin Kaepernick action figure.

Waughs client Jeffrey Chenevert, 46, comes by for an office visit. Hes been working with Waugh for two and a half months and has failed two drug tests. Chenevert says his medications are affecting the test results.

Waugh tells him to bring in the medications at his next visit so he can determine whether thats the case. But if you mess up again, he warns, Ill send the results in and youll be locked up again.


  • Waugh waits in the corridor at the central arraignment court in downtown Los Angeles.

Because this is Los Angeles, Waugh spends a lot of time in his car. He drives from his west Los Angeles office to the central arraignment court downtown, where his client Keion Anderson is appearing before a judge on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

Arrested 20 days earlier, Anderson stands silently in a plexiglass enclosure, craning his head downward to speak through a small opening in the wall when called upon to answer a question. Waugh is there to speak on Andersons behalf, telling the judge that prior to the arrest Anderson had been reporting consistently. The judge rules that Anderson should be released soon and must report to Waughs office within 48 hours.

Waugh makes his way back to the west side, passing through the vast Skid Row area. The day is bright, sunny and warm. Men and women sitting in lawn chairs line the sidewalks, the Twice as Nice ice cream truck has carnival music blasting through its speakers.

Waugh parks and strolls down the middle of Crocker Street, as tents, carts and stacks of possessions dont leave enough room on the sidewalk for pedestrians. A former client, Donald Smith, 64, spots Waugh and shouts gleefully. Smith, a veteran originally from Alabama, was Waughs client for two years, through last spring. He soon begs off, confessing that hes high on meth and doesnt want Waugh to see him like this.

Imma call you when Im sober, he tells Waugh. I love you with all my heart.

He walks away. Waugh stands still for a moment, moved by the encounter. Hes glad that seeing him gave Smith a moment of reckoning. Just from that, being embarrassed, that might straighten him out.

Whether or not Waughs actions can really affect the course of Smiths life is debatable. Still, Waugh is on the front lines of the system, and its up to him to keep faith enough to carry on with the work.

This is cool, he says. This is why I do it.


  • Walking through the Skid Row area of LA, Waugh runs into a former client.

This article was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

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Exclusive: more women join pay inequality case, expanding allegations to ABC Television and Walt Disney Pictures

Ten women have now accused the Walt Disney Company of gender discrimination as part of a major class-action pay gap case that has expanded to include ABC Television and Disneys film studio.

The wage inequality lawsuit against one of the worlds largest media and entertainment corporations alleges that divisions across Disney systematically mistreat women by giving them lower salaries than male colleagues doing equivalent work and by denying them promotions.

Four more women have come forward in a new complaint filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles, which provided detailed claims about their struggles to get paid the same as men. Their claims of unlawful discrimination are against Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Disneys music label, ABC Televisions music department, and the companys finance department. Six of the 10 named plaintiffs are women of color.

Being underpaid and undervalued year after year has a very real cumulative effect, financially, said Nancy Dolan, one of the new plaintiffs, in a statement to the Guardian, which first reported on the new complaint. Its also demoralizing and emotionally draining. Its time for Disney to join the dozens of California companies who have pledged to pay their women workers fairly.

The class-action case, which seeks to represent all women employed full-time by Disney in California since April 2015, is escalating at a time in which there is intense scrutiny of pay gaps in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the media industry and other sectors.

An earlier filing in July included accusations against Disney Music Publishing, a recording arm of the company; a business division responsible for ESPN and Hulu streaming services; Walt Disney Imagineering, a division that does projects for the companys theme parks, resorts, cruises and venues; and the Hollywood Records label, which has signed singers such as Demi Lovato, Zendaya and Miley Cyrus.

Theres trepidation about coming forward, but all of them felt like they had no other option, Lori Andrus, an attorney for the women, said in an interview Wednesday.

Disney did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new complaint and plaintiffs. The company previously said the lawsuit was without merit and that the corporation had robust pay equity practices and policies.

Dolan has worked for Disneys film studio for 18 years and has been a senior manager of creative music marketing since 2015. Her supervisor has repeatedly told her that her job responsibilities were the same as someone several steps above her current title and that a promotion was long overdue, the suit said.

Her performance review in 2016 said she was operating easily at director level, if not higher. In 2018, the review said she was working at vice-president level and was an unparalleled expert in her field. Disney HR, however, has refused to promote her, the suit said, despite one review that stated: Her contribution to Beauty and the Beast alone resulted in the most substantial music marketing campaign in recent years and yielded global success.

At one point, HR allegedly told her she could not be promoted from manager to director because she would be skipping a level, but then subsequently promoted two of her male counterparts in that exact manner. When she asked about this, Disney told her that one of the men was promoted because he was more of a retention risk, since he was younger, the suit said.

One supervisor also directly acknowledged that Dolan was doing the work of an executive vice-president for a fraction of the cost, according to the complaint.

Anabel Pareja Sinn, another new plaintiff, worked as a senior designer for Hollywood Records from 2006 to 2017. She was doing equivalent work to a male colleague, but he was classified as an art director, and she made significantly less money as a result, the suit said.

Sinn told the Guardian in an email that if the company took this issue seriously, it could have widespread implications: Disney has such influence in our country, and in the world. If Disney leads the way for gender equity, all women in the workforce will be better off.

A third new plaintiff, Dawn Wisner-Johnson, worked for Disneys ABC Television music branch until 2017 (ABC is home to Greys Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder and other major hit television shows).

Wisner-Johnson was classified as a manager while doing director-level work and was also denied a raise, the suit said.

Kathy Ly, the fourth person to join the lawsuit this week, worked as an analyst in the finance marketing department from March 2017 to March 2018. She routinely worked 55 to 60 hours a week and received positive performance feedback, but made less than men doing the same work and was given a much lower raise than her male counterpart without valid reason, the suit said.

Andrus said it was difficult for some of the women to directly see the company valuing men over them without justification: Sometimes the men are younger. Sometimes the men are not as good performers. Sometimes they are not as experienced. And they are just being promoted because of their potential.

For the women, it was an entirely different experience, the lawyer said: Theyre getting great performance reviews and being told to wait a year while they are watching male colleagues skip steps and move up more quickly.

Andrus, whose firm has a history of equal pay cases against major corporations, said it was a red flag that a majority of the plaintiffs were women of color. The case does not allege racial discrimination, though research has repeatedly shown that women of color suffer a worse pay gap than white women.

The attorney added that it was not easy to come forward: All of them love Disney, they love the work they do, the people they work with. But going public in court was the only step they had left after reaching dead ends internally, she said: Theyve tried everything.

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