Chief Probation Officer Laura Garnette will retire from her post later this month, ending a three-decade long career where she has spearheaded many significant reform efforts to help adult and juvenile probation clients break the cycle of incarceration. She will be replaced by Assistant Chief Probation Officer Nick Birchard, who starts his new role leading the Probation Department on January 23.
“During her tenure as Chief Probation Officer, Laura Garnette has made an indelible impact on our community,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith, M.D., J.D. “There are many services and programs helping countless adults and young people that were created through her leadership. We have been lucky to have her leading efforts to protect public safety and help justice-involved individuals find their way out of the system and to a more positive, productive path.”
During Chief Garnette’s tenure, the County has increased access to evidence-based treatment and education, and to work and career assistance for adult probation clients. This has led to more effective case management and a robust partnership with the Dependency Advocacy Center to help adult clients with children avoid involvement with the child welfare system altogether or to improve the outcomes if they are involved. This holistic approach to serving the whole family has made a demonstrable difference in the lives of many in the community. Her leadership also led to a decade-long effort with community-based agencies, the Department of Family and Children’s Services, and the Behavioral Health Department to help youth heal from abuse or neglect, profoundly changing how juvenile justice behaviors are treated.
Chief Garnette has found it difficult to let go of her long career of service, but called the appointment of Assistant Chief Birchard as her successor a “gift that allows me to retire with full confidence about the department moving forward.”
“I have had the honor of working with Nick Birchard for 12 years. He has outstanding experience in every area of the Probation Department’s work, but even more importantly, he is one of the most honest, highly principled people I have ever known,” she said. “He genuinely believes in the ability for clients to heal and change and supports our staff fully.”
“Chief Garnette leaves big shoes to fill and Assistant Chief Birchard brings the experience, client-centered focus, and leadership skills to meet the challenge,” said Chief Operating Officer Greta S. Hansen. “His professional achievements are impressive, and he has an unwavering commitment to improving the lives and outcomes of our community members involved in the justice system and all systems that intersect with probation services.”
Mr. Birchard has worked for the Probation Department for more than 25 years leading initiatives that aim to improve public safety while empowering justice-involved clients to find their way out of the system. He has been an executive leader in the Probation Department for the past six years and has worked in various leadership capacities with adult, juvenile, and institutional services divisions.
“I am deeply honored to take on the position of Chief Probation Officer because it not only aligns with my diverse work experience, but it also offers the opportunity to work closely with the community and county stakeholders to improve outcomes for clients and improve public safety,” Mr. Birchard said. “I value collaboration and transparent communication. I am committed to building trust and fostering relationships with the community and county stakeholders through inclusion, equity, and respect for diversity.”
Mr. Birchard brings a distinguished track record in juvenile justice reform efforts to lead and develop evidence-based policies and programs designed to keep justice-involved clients from falling deeper into the system. He has led many significant projects and initiatives, most recently Juvenile Justice Realignment Senate Bill 823, which transfers the responsibilities of the Division of Juvenile Justice to local county jurisdictions. In addition, Mr. Birchard led the Probation Department’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration collaboration with county justice stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to reduce and ultimately zero out the number of girls in detention and placement in the county.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Birchard led and oversaw the Probation Department’s two congregate care facilities focusing on health and safety for all youth and staff. With the collaboration of Public Health and Custody Health departments, infection control policies were implemented to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus among the County’s most vulnerable clients.
Mr. Birchard holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from San Jose State University. He was part of the County’s initial Leadership and Transformation Program at Stanford University’s Center for Professional Development. He is also part of the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) Certificate Program/Fellows Network.