For slightly more than a year Shasta County has been grappling with how to implement Public Safety Realignment, a state law transferring to counties a variety of public safety responsibilities.
These responsibilities were enacted by AB 109, April, 2011, and the responsibilities were transferred October 1, 2011. The transfer raises various issues: how to best use law enforcement resources to keep ourselves safe; what level of taxation are we willing to spend on this, and all other programs; what does the evidence tell us about how to keep law-breakers from doing it again.
In brief, Public Safety Realignment transferred responsibility to counties for supervising certain parolees released from state prison. Those transferred have served a sentence for a non-violent or non-serious offense and/or a sex offense that does not require registration as a sex offender.
These parolees are subject to community supervision (probation or parole) for a period not longer than three years. The law also says that offenders of the same type who are sentenced after October 1, 2011, will serve sentences in a county jail or a combination of time in jail and time on parole/probation.
Actions to revoke parole/probation for these offenders will be filed locally. Jail time imposed as a result will be served in the county jail. Counties are authorized to develop alternatives to jail time (such as work release or electronic monitoring through such things as ankle bracelets). They are also authorized to explore sanctions that hold offenders accountable (such as drug testing or more frequent reporting requirements).
Counties received initial funding, based primarily on the average population of offenders covered by AB 109 and census data in the county. By June 2014 (roughly three years after implementation) allocations may well change. Management of the Realignment program is overseen by a local Community Corrections Partnership (CCP). This body is chaired by Wesley Forman, Shasta County Chief Probation Officer, and includes Sheriff Tom Bosenko, the District Attorney, Public Defender, Director of County Health and Human Services, Court Executive Officer of the County Superior Court and the Redding Chief of Police. They have developed the plan to implement Realignment and advise the Board of Supervisors about how to distribute Realignment funding and how to implement the plan.
Realignment presents a tangled web of issues. The state acted to reduce its prison population, following a mandate from the United States Supreme Court. The alternative would have been a massive prison building program. Simply building more prison space is unlikely to reduce overcrowding sufficiently and quickly enough to avoid massive prisoner releases. The State’s finances also played a role, although counties statewide have aggressively acted to ensure that Realignment funding will meet the need. Overriding all of these pressures, however, is the broad agreement that the overall goal of implementation of this program should be to enhance community safety by reducing offender recidivism. In other words, the goal is to reduce the number of individuals who come home to Shasta County and break the law again when their state stint is completed.
County plans include the following: Improve assessment to identify individuals with a high risk of reoffending; Expand options available for treatment as an alternative to jail, or in addition to jail (drug testing, work release programs, residential settings, electronic confinement, and others); Open the vacant floor of the jail (128 additional beds added to 317 existing beds); this has already happened; Establish a new Community Corrections Center that includes offender assessment activities and a day reporting center for those on probation and parole.
On December 4 the Board of Supervisors heard a report from Probation Chief Forman and Sheriff Bosenko. The Board was dismayed that the proposed Community Corrections Center opening was delayed another month, until the end of February, 2013. In addition, an early problem in Realignment was that defendants did not show up to arraignment hearings. This was attributed to not enough jail space, and the sheriff has now opened that vacant floor in the jail. As this was addressed, the no-show rate at arraignment has improved significantly. At the same time, the number of defendants failing to show at a subsequent disposition/plea hearing has increased.
On December 11 the Board was asked to approve a contract with a firm to operate the day reporting center part of the Community Corrections Center. The contractor, BI Incorporated, will provide assessment, individual plans, supervision of the plan components, and aftercare services. The Board expressed concern at the delay in opening the Community Corrections Center. Most seriously, Supervisor Kehoe expressed strong concern at the lack of hard targets for results and accomplishments in the contract. He voted against the contract in the resulting 4-1 vote to approve it.
What are we to make of all this?
Press reports have raised the specter that the state is flooding local communities with scary, dangerous bad guys. The challenge hit the county at a time when jail space was already limited and the county budget was in fragile shape. Shasta County has a recidivism rate that is higher than the state average.
On the other hand, it appears that the offender population consists of Shasta County folks, who were sent to prison from here, and would return here. The recidivism rate for state prisons is very bad. The types of crimes that are targeted by this law are troublesome, butnot necessarily scary. The real issue will be whether local assessment programs can identify repeat offenders, or bad guys who were only convicted of lesser crimes. Once identified, can the county realistically jail those likely to be a community problem?
If the answer to both is yes, there is at least the possibility that services such as drug treatment or work release can resolve some of the problems that lead to crime in individuals who are going to live among us in any case.
Editor’s note: Catherine Camp will take some time off for a vacation in January. Her column will resume after her return.
Catherine Camp is currently retired. She served as a Consultant to the California Senate Budget Committee in 2001-02, reviewing Social Services, Employment Development, Aging, Community Services, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Rehabilitation and Child Support budgets. From 1989-2000, Catherine was Executive Director for the California Mental Health Directors Association. During that period, Catherine staffed the county mental health system’s restructuring of public mental health through Realignment of community and long term care programs from the state to the county, transfer of the management of specialty mental health Medi-Cal services to those counties that agreed to provide them, development of risk mechanisms for consortia of small counties, and advocacy and policy analysis for the operation of public mental health programs throughout the state. Her prior experience includes Executive Director to the California-Nevada Community Action Association, Principal Consultant to the Assembly Human Services Policy Committee, and Director of Community Action and Head Start programs in Shasta County.