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Public Safety Realignment and the Probation Department

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Chief Probation Officer Michelle Scray –

The Public Safety Realignment Bill, known popularly as AB 109, was signed into law by Governor Brown on April 5, 2011. It represents the most sweeping changes to community corrections in a generation. Realignment focuses on several aspects of criminal sentencing, punishment, and community supervision. Certain offenders now are categorized as Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS), those convicted for various non-serious, non-violent, non-sex related offenses. Rather than being committed to state prison as in the past, they now serve their sentences in local jails. The legislation also transferred the responsibility for supervising these offenders upon their release to local county jurisdiction- county probation departments rather than state parole. Provisions of this bill took effect on October 1, 2011. Other key components include a mandate that offenders be released to the counties where they lived when the crime was committed; and one that prevents them from being sent to prison for violation of their terms of supervision. Realignment also requires probation departments to utilize programs that have proven records of success for the treatment and rehabilitation of these offenders.

Realignment mandates that probation departments perform the job of supervising these PRCS offenders similar to those already placed on probation. With AB 109, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to classify offenders only by the present committed offense. In other words, a person with a history of violence or serious crime, but has a less serious current conviction, qualifies for local incarceration and probation supervision pursuant to AB 109.

Of course, the cost to local government for incarceration and supervision is a vexing worry. The state has pledged a sufficient amount of revenue to the County for approximately the first three years, although a final accounting of the amount, and whether some money will be taken from other current revenue streams, is still being conducted. However, there is no firm commitment of a funding stream from the state for what will be a significant public safety issue. Governor Brown supports a state constitutional amendment that would guarantee a permanent source of revenue for local authorities to continue AB 109 responsibilities that were handed-off from CDCR. The County of San Bernardino is concerned that without a constitutional amendment, it will be difficult to safely and appropriately supervise the approximately 6,500 PRCS offenders who will be living in our communities. Leaving the counties with responsibilities previous assigned to the state, and no funding, could lead to a number of difficult decisions concerning jail overcrowding, mandatory early releases, as well as insufficient resources to provide even a minimal amount of supervision. As a point of interest, California is the only state that does not provide counties with a dedicated stream of funding for adult offender supervision. This fiscal problem could force the San Bernardino County Probation Department to make difficult choices about the level of supervision and services available to our traditional probation population and juvenile offenders as we take from one program to support public safety problems in another area. Ultimately, the Probation Department is committed to the welfare and equal service levels for all persons under our jurisdiction.

There are also concerns about how the funding was distributed to the counties. Each county was allocated a percentage of the approximately $350 million that was realigned from cut backs imposed on the Department of Corrections. San Bernardino County received 7.6% of the funding, based upon the projected parolee population in both the state and county. This translated into $27 million for the first year. This funding was specifically designated for costs associated with the implementation of AB 109 through June 30, 2012. The state’s primary objective was to ensure the proper supervision of PRCS offenders. This revenue allowed the hiring of additional probation personnel, added infrastructure, and the creation of three day reporting centers.

However, based upon the anticipated number of PRCS offenders, the state has not allocated sufficient funds to the counties to adequately provide all the necessary resources. The Sheriff’s Department has projected that as a result of AB 109, there could be approximately 4,500 new prisoners held in their county jails which would have a serious impact on the ability to detain other prisoners.

Based upon CDCR’s own statistics, parolees released from prison have a 67.6% chance of returning to prison in the first year of their release. If the parolee can remain crime-free in the community for at least 3 years, the recidivism rate drops to 32%. Our department recognizes that we must hold individuals accountable for their behavior. At the same, however, we must address the underlying reasons for criminal behavior: drug addiction, mental illness, an inability to gain employment, gang involvement, and etcetera.

To provide rehabilitative resources immediately upon their release, the San Bernardino County Probation Department, with the support of a number of other county agencies, is committed to helping PRCS offenders more easily transition back into their communities. To meet the needs of offenders, we are creating a “one-stop shop” of providers and resources at our three new day reporting centers. They will be located in the San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, and Victorville areas.

These centers will offer transitional and permanent housing, mental health treatment services, employment, vocational training and placement services, substance abuse treatment, health screenings, adult education and other supportive services and many other resources. Participating county agencies include: Workforce Development, Behavioral Health, Transitional Assistance, Public Health, and the Department of Aging and Adult Services.

This fiscal year, we have committed approximately 14% of our allocated realignment funds directly to rehabilitation and treatment programs. The Sheriff’s Department will also be working closely with Probation to incorporate intermediate sanctions and services. AB 109 supervision components also include electronic/satellite monitoring, community service, house arrest, short-term incarceration, and fire crews. We believe that agency collaboration will assist PRCS offenders in the transition from criminal behavior to being productive citizens.

The Probation Department has also enhanced our Research Unit to collect and analyze data that comes from realignment. We can depend upon our own statistical information rather than relying on estimates and assumptions from CDCR. Moreover, the department can enhance and improve delivery of service based upon programs that have proven to be successful.

Our ultimate goal is to create a collective environment that helps fill the gaps in programs with a variety of rehabilitative services already present in our communities. We are very supportive of the many contributions from community-based organizations and faith-based organizations. These groups are at the forefront of addressing the challenges in providing for the daily needs of those impacted by the criminal justice system. The Probation Department is aware that the state did not allocate funding to these organizations whose primary mission is to help parishioners, the needy, and those disadvantaged due to their past criminal behavior. Over the course of the past four months, we have met with a number of community leaders to begin to develop constructive solutions to improve the community environment for PRCS offenders. We are also supportive of their efforts to acquire designated, organization-specific funding from the state for their respective roles in the rehabilitation of offenders.

In the near future, the Probation Department will submit “requests for proposals” that will target key areas in service for PRCS offenders such as employment services, vocational training, transitional housing, case management, behavioral health, and substance abuse services. We intend to develop partnerships with community and faith-based organizations that have effective programs for PRCS offender rehabilitative services. We believe that San Bernardino County can be the model for service and treatment in response to the AB 109 mandates. Through a multi-layered system of county agency collaboration, community organization partnerships, the delivery of treatment services, effective community supervision, and advocacy of permanent funding streams, San Bernardino County can easily surpass the effectiveness of CDCR in recidivism, treatment and public safety. The Probation Department had planned to schedule meetings with community based and faith based organizations in the Spring to evaluate community resources available for the Day Reporting Centers. However, the San Bernardino County Reentry Collaborative (SBCRC) is developing a countywide strategic plan for the successful reentry of offenders into our communities. The Probation Department will partner with this task force to accomplish this goal. The SBCRC provides the necessary platform for a fully integrated and collaborative effort to develop a countywide strategic plan for the reentry population. Through this strategic planning process, resource evaluation and gap analysis will be used to determine services at the Day Reporting Centers. The Probation Department encourages all community stakeholders wishing to become involved in the realignment to become a member of the SBCR and attend their upcoming meeting on December 9, 2011, 9:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m. at the County Government Center, 385 North Arrowhead Avenue, Joshua Room, in San Bernardino.