In an effort to reduce state prison overcrowding, and to save money, California’s legislature adopted the Public Safety Realignment Act (Assembly Bill 109.)
Effective on October 1, 2011 this Act transferred responsibility for housing and supervising non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offender (Non/Non/Non) inmates and parolees from state prisons to California’s 58 counties. AB 109 becomes effective in two phases. In the first phase (October 2011 – June 2013), counties must provide housing, monitoring, and supervision of Non/Non/Non inmates and parolees locally.
The second phase, which does not begin until July 1, 2013, transfers the responsibility for conducting parole revocation hearings for all parolees from the State Parole Board to county Superior Courts. Under the first phase of the Act, judges gained new sentencing options.
In addition to being able to sentence Non/Non/Non offenders to felony sentences of more than one year to be served entirely in local jails, judges can also issue “split” sentences that include both jail time and mandatory supervision. According to preliminary estimates, the Contra Costa Superior Court already has handled cases for approximately 325-350 of the estimated first-year population of 400 Non/Non/Non offenders.
Reducing recidivism is a longstanding goal within the criminal justice community. Numerous studies show that those who leave prison or jail are far less likely to reoffend when their housing, employment, and physical and mental health care needs are met. To protect public safety and support each individual’s successful reentry into the community, a significant percentage of Realignment funds are dedicated to assessing inmate needs before they are released, and then providing access to evidence-based programs and services in a coordinated fashion to support each person’s successful reentry into the community.
To implement the various goals and objectives of the Realignment Act, counties were required to establish Community Correction Partnership (CCP) committees. By statute, the Executive Committee of the CCP includes: the Chief Probation Officer as chair, a Chief of Police, the Sheriff, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Director of either Social Services, Mental Health, or Alcohol and Substance Abuse programs, and the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court or his or her designee.
Beginning in fiscal year 2012-13, the CCP has a new and very welcome challenge. After recalculating the funding formulas to acknowledge the actual impact of the Act on each county, Contra Costa County had its first annual allocation increased from $4.5 million to approximately $19.1 million for each of the next two program years. This substantial increase in funds puts Contra Costa in the enviable position of being able to step back and rethink how we can best meet the sentencing and reentry-related needs of the Non/Non/Non offenders that call our county home—and the CCP is doing just that by developing and adopting an operational plan, and identifying our preferred mix of programs and services that will help our parolees reenter community life successfully.
Under the Realignment Act, courts must contribute to reductions in recidivism through more effective sentencing practices. To help the Court meet its obligations, we hired a Realignment Analyst, and have made changes to our case management system to accommodate the new sentencing options and track our new caseload. The Court has also begun planning for creation of a Reentry Court. Reentry Courts are special problem solving or collaborative justice courts that provide a seamless transition for offenders leaving jails and prisons and reentering the community.
These courts establish a program of graduated sanctions and rewards that can be used to influence parolee conduct without automatically resorting to incarceration. Participants generally appear before the court on a regular basis for review, and agree to follow a personalized program plan. Most programs require between six months and one year of participation. Research shows that those who are most likely to respond well to reentry court services include medium and high-risk offenders with a relatively short criminal history.
All in all, the first year of implementing the Realignment Act has been busy and successful, and the county has a great start in developing and integrating the programs and services into an effective network that we will need to help our AB 109 reentry population to succeed. The Court has every confidence that the CCP, together with input from individuals and organizations throughout the county, will continue to be leaders in the state in reducing recidivism.
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