Vega Pederson Nominates Denise Peña Nominated As Next DCJ Director

By Kiara Doyal, Portland Medium

On Tuesday, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson announced that she will ask the Board of County Commissioners to confirm her appointment of Denise Peña as the next director of the Department of Community Justice (DCJ), the confirmation vote is scheduled for May 2, 2024.

If confirmed, Peña will replace current Multnomah County Director Erika Preuitt, who announced her retirement last December after serving as director for over 30 years. Peña will succeed Preuitt and will serve as the interim department director after April 30 until her appointment is confirmed.

Peña, who has over 25 years of service and leadership across the department, currently serves as deputy director, where she supports the department’s Research and Planning Team, contracting, budgeting, facilities and other department-wide efforts. Peña previously served as a senior manager in the department’s Adult Services Division. She also worked as a community justice manager and served as a lead parole and probation officer and trainer. Before coming to the Department of Community Justice, she worked as a victims advocate in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

Guided by evidence-based and culturally specific strategies to help maximize resources and results, the Department of Community Justice provides support services to justice-involved youth, adults, and their communities. As director, Peña will oversee work that not only holds justice-involved people accountable as they return to the community, but also addresses the underlying issues that lead to criminal behavior, and helps people heal.

In January of this year, a search firm launched a nationwide recruitment for a new Department of Community Justice director.

From an initial nationwide field of 25, county officials selected five candidates to advance further into the process. Then, in March, those selected met with an interview panel of eight County stakeholders, including countywide leadership and labor union representatives. Stakeholders then provided feedback on each selected finalist to help inform the Chair’s decision.

“We had a very strong candidate pool, and I’m grateful many qualified candidates came forward to lead our Department of Community Justice,” says Pederson. “Peña has a proven track record at DCJ of centering the needs of our community and employees. She brings deep knowledge of parole and probation. I have no doubt she will deliver on a vision of community justice that fulfills the needs of Multnomah County now and into the future.”

Growing up Peña moved around the world before her family settled in the Beaverton area where she became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2000. Peña’s upbringing and having the ability to speak three languages helped shape her perspective and ability to connect with people across cultures and communities.

Peña had quite the journey throughout her career before coming to the DCJ. Ultimately Peña found her calling while attending Portland State University, where she took on-call shifts at a YWCA that was serving as a women’s Domestic Violence shelter. She then worked her way up the totem pole bringing her to the DCJ in 2004, previously taking on roles as a case manager, a victim’s advocate, and a parole probation officer in the Domestic Violence Unit.

“I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to lead the department where I spent the last 20 years of my career,” says Peña. “I have seen firsthand the hard work that Department of Community Justice employees do every day to keep our County safe and help justice-involved individuals transition back into their communities and improve their lives, and I’m proud of the values we bring to this work providing support to victims while holding the people who harmed them accountable.”

Peña’s admirable work regarding providing resources for victims and survivors within the Victim and Survivor Services Unit, earned her two awards, one including the Joe Kegans Award for Victim Services in Probation and Parole.

Her work at Victim and Survivor Services connected her with both the Juvenile Services Division and Adult Services Division and led her through a natural transition to a senior manager. Carrying on the role for over 3 years, Peña oversaw the Women and Family Services, the Domestic Violence Unit, the African American Unit, and a plethora of other units.

Pending consent of the Board of County Commissioners, Peña will oversee the DCJ’s nearly $112 million annual budget and as well as oversee 460 employees.