High Profile: Linda Penner
You retired after a distinguished 30-year career with the Fresno County Probation Department, most recently as chief. Why did you take on a new position working with Gov. Jerry Brown?
When Jerry Brown was Governor-elect, he called together the state’s high-ranking public safety officials to talk about the state prison overcrowding crisis. At the time, I was President of the California Chiefs of Probation. He told us that the state had a problem and that it was going to take an innovative approach to solve it or else the federal three-judge panel would begin wholesale release of prisoners. We had to go back to our associations, present the problem and come up with a plan to responsibly manage the state’s incarcerated population. That’s how Public Safety Realignment was born.
The Governor asked me to be a part of the planning that would keep non-serious offenders in county jails, where they could get rehabilitative programming to turn around their lives, instead of sending them to state prisons. As Fresno County Probation Chief, I had already gone through a similar process with Juvenile Realignment in 2007. Eventually, the Governor appointed me Chair of the Board of State and Community Corrections, which is a new agency of the Administration that oversees Re- alignment and other local corrections issues. I’m also the Governor’s liaison to the counties on public safety issues. As Chair, I oversee a budget of $1 billion in public safety grants and jail construction funds across the State, and lead the Board that makes policy decisions affecting county corrections. Governor Brown appointed me to the position to help usher in Public Safety Realignment.
I’m in Fresno on weekends, but usually I’m in Sacramento or traveling the state during the week. It’s inspiring for me to see all of the innovative work that counties across the state are performing to help offenders straighten out their lives, especially right here in Fresno County, where Sheriff Margaret Mims and Probation Chief Rick Chavez are achieving some amazing preliminary results.
Tell us about your work with the BSCC.
I spend most weekdays traveling the state to talk with local public safety officials about the work they are doing to save taxpayer money by reducing recidivism. So often in corrections, we see the same low-level offenders churning through the system, which is expensive. It makes more sense to get them substance abuse treatment and job training, and to have them serve their sentences partly incarcerated and partly under the supervision of probation officers who can make sure they follow through. Very often I travel with the Governor as his public safety liaison. He is very engaged in what is going on at the local level and wants to hear first-hand from local officials about what is working, and what are the challenges they face in this historic shift. Everyone wants this to be successful and the entire country is watching what is happening in California right now. That’s why the recent state Attorney General’s report said crime is down across the state in all categories was such welcome news. It’s too early to credit Realignment alone, but it is good news for Californians—and the sky isn’t falling because low-level offenders are being handled more effectively.
Now, tell us about yourself
Birthplace: I was born 60 years ago at St. Agnes when it was on Floradora at Fruit, the seventh of 10 children, same as my husband Don (that’s why it was fate that we ended up together!). I graduated from San Joaquin Memorial and Fresno State, so until I took this job with the Governor, my life and career have been right here in Fresno.
Marital status: I’ve been married for 30 years to Don Penner, a Fresno County Superior Court Judge. It was love at first sight for me and our first date was at the Fresno County Courthouse cafeteria.
First job: I was a babysitter for Dr. Richard Hoffman, who was a prominent heart surgeon at St. Agnes Medical Center. When I was 17, the Hoffmans took me to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I fell in love with the beach and Capitola remains my favorite vacation spot.
Book I’m recommending: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini, a WWII POW survivor. Very inspiring.
Favorite game: My favorite sport is basketball and my team is the San Antonio Spurs. I’m a huge fan of Tim Duncan. Don and I love college basketball and have been fortunate to attend the NCAA Final Four tournament in recent years. My daughter Morgan also coaches basketball at Clovis North, so I see those games when I can.
I splurge on: Clothes. I love to feel good about what I’m wearing.
My favorite city outside California: Copenhagen, Demark. It is so clean and everyone rides bicycles wherever they go (so did I while we were there). The food was fabulous.
Favorite restaurant: No question, it is Pismos. Owner Dave Fansler and I were in the same class at San Joaquin Memorial. I love his style and his friendship! His restaurants create both a wonderful ambiance and delicious food. Fresno is lucky to have him.
Person who impacted my life: My Mom. She was such a giving and unselfish person who raised 10 children, including my youngest brother Timmy who was born with Down Syndrome. Her attitude toward life and others was ahead of her time. She was unflappable, and gave to each of her children the love and support that each of us needed. She treated Timmy no differently than the rest of us and never wanted us to either. She was a strong woman who made me feel I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. And I have.
My biggest regret: Not having more children because Jordan and Morgan are the lights of my life.
Favorite president: William Henry Harrison because he served for only 30 days, which doesn’t give anyone a chance to be angry at his policies or politics!
Nobody knows: It was love at first sight the first time I saw Don. There was a deep connection and feeling of comfort, as if I had found my true life.
One thing I cannot stand: I have no tolerance for intolerance.
A really great evening: Is a dinner party with friends. I am very inclusive and my husband thinks I entertain the entire free world every weekend. I love a great margarita made with premium tequila. I make great salads and have gotten rave reviews on my homemade chili.
If I could change one thing about myself: I’d be more patient. I don’t have the longest attention span, which is probably why I’m so good at multi-tasking and getting lots of things done at once.
People who knew me in high school and college: Thought I was a lot of fun. I’ve stayed in close contact with them over the years and they still think I’m fun. I was blessed with a sense of humor and ability to laugh at myself. I love my friends and cherish the time I spend with them.
The most difficult time in my life was: Watching my mom take the long journey home.
My friends like me because: I love them back.
Best advice I ever got: Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Best advice I ever gave: Telling my two children the exact same thing
The best thing my parents gave to me: My nine brothers and sisters. I love each of them more than they can imagine.
I’m a sucker for: Children, dogs and a good sale—especially on clothes.
My favorite vacation spot: Capitola, California. We are fortunate to have a house there and nothing makes me happier than to host my children or old friends for the weekend. It’s a place where I can really unwind and forget about the stress of my job.
If I could live anywhere in the world: I’d pick the beach, as long as my family and friends came with me. They are my life and I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere that they weren’t close by.
The craziest thing I ever did: I zipped lined down the ski jump in Denmark where ABC’s “Wide World of Sports: Thrill of Victory; Agony of Defeat” was filmed. What a thrill indeed. Lucky for me, there was no agony involved.
I’m always fascinated by the way women: Get things done. We are the ultimate multi-taskers.
My favorite movie: “An Affair to Remember" with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. I think if relationships are meant to be, people will find a way and wait for each other. It might take time, but love is a powerful force.
The world would be a lot better off if people: Paid it forward.