Cal jails see increased violence since Realignment?

Screen shot 2012-11-04 at 6.14.22 PMDec. 2, 2013

The media is having a field day quoting anonymous sources, arguing that an increase in jail violence in California Jails is due to the more violent offenders who would have been placed in prison, and now being placed in California jails under Realignment Reform.

The story is accurate as far as it goes but it doesn’t necessarily go far enough. The combined population In the 10 largest county jails grew 14 percent through 2012 while inmate-on-inmate assaults rose 32 percent and inmate-on-staff assaults rose 27 percent. Clearly a significant increase.

But when you look behind the numbers, you find some obvious and even some unsuspected causes.

1. When you put more offenders in a jail (as in a prison), there will be more violence as the overcrowding causes an increase in tension and violence (remember the experiments with rats in a cage from high school). The fact is that while some jails are experiencing greater violence, jail population is up; prison populations are down and prison violence is down.

“Simultaneously, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation saw a 15 percent drop in inmate-on-inmate assaults within state prisons, while attacks on employees dropped 24 percent as the prison population dramatically declined last year, according to statistics obtained through a separate public records request by the AP.” (NBC News)

2. Jails aren’t designed for long term offenders. If you put those with ten year sentences in a jail (as realignment allows), there will be consequences. But that ignores the very purpose of Prison Realignment. In pre-realignment times, counties dumped their bad boys and girls in state prisons far from home where they wouldn’t have to deal with them for as long as the county judge sent them up for. It was a free ride, the state picked up the tab and a lot of counties took full advantage of that. Realignment is bringing accountability and financial responsibility back to the sentencing county where it ought to be.

3. Following  up on Point 2, Realignment was designed to encourage county judges to split prison sentences and use alternatives to incarceration whenever appropriate. Those sentenced to prison, yet placed in county jail (I know, it can be hard to get a hold of that concept), would receive a portion of the sentence in jail and the rest in what is euphemistically called “mandatory supervision”,  (another way of describing probation for the serious offender). What was envisioned was judges using split sentencing to transition offenders from jail into the community under supervision, where alternatives to incarceration would be available to the offender The last statistics I’ve seen suggest that the courts are not up to the task. Except for some outstanding exceptions (Santa Clara, San diego, and a few more), sentenced prisoners get straight jail sentence more than eighty percent of the time. And when a judge does that, the sentence is final, and the offender remains in jail for the full term.

So when you read about how California Realignment isn’t working, it’s a good  idea to read down to the bottom of the article, for a fuller picture “Sacramento County was the only one to see a decrease in inmate-on-inmate assaults, while Alameda, Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties saw declines in assaults on staff.”

This is a work in progress that many would like to roll back. While Realignment is unlikely to go away, the big push is to build jails that are virtual prisons. Watch for it.


Cal Probation Chiefs hail Split Sentencing

Jan. 7, 2013

The Chief Probation Officers of Califronia (CPOC), through Marin Probation Chief Michael Daly, issued a press release arguing that the new resources made available to them under AB109, are increasing the effectiveness of sentencing and reducing recidivism while increasing the effectiveness of probation rehabilitation efforts. The press release issued 12/19/12 (escaping my attention during the holliday season). describes a recent study conducted by the James Irvine Foundation, “Mandatory Supervision: The Benefits of Evidence Based Supervision under Public Safety Realignment”

“The good news is that probation departments have been utilizing evidence-based practices before Realignment and that has helped us easily adapt to probation’s greater role in our new responsibilities,” said Marin Chief of Probation Michael Daly, “research has shown that conducting risk assessments, targeting specific needs of each individual and utilizing swift and certain sanctions actually work with this population..” ( CPOC Press Release)

But the Association also points out that  one of the most valuable new tools of the courts and probation, Split-Sentencing is being used sparingly.  The California Realignment Statute requires that a judge sentence an offender (who might have previously been sentenced to prison), to county jail, when the offense is non-violent, non-serious, or non-sexual,  The court can then sentence the offender to straight county jail time or split the sentence between jail and “mandatory supervision” ( akin to probation). This is an opportunity for judges to leverage compliance with education, job training, and cognitive therapy requirements in exchange for reduced custody or other incentives. The Probation Chiefs point out that only 23% of offenders sentenced to county jail on a prison offense were given split sentences, between Oct. 2011 and June 2012. Instead, the vast majority are sentenced  to county jail sentence with no possibility of community supervision.

While the tone of the report ad press release are positive, I believe the “Split Sentencng” issue is  serious. Courts and criminal justice systems are overwhelmed with cases, at a time when funding continues to tighten. As the probation chiefs point out, ” the inconsistent use of split sentences in counties, can limit their ability to reduce overcrowding in their jails and lead to less favorable outcomes using incarceration alone for offenders”. To my mind , the Chiefs are arguing for a more systematic sentencing structure that takes full advantage of evidence-based sentencing processes and maximizes the  leverage provided by “Split Sentencing”.


Ft. Wayne: Indiana’s Systemic Reentry Court

Nov. 26, 2012

The following article, first published on this website in March, 2010, describes the excellent Reentry Court System that Judge John Surbeck (see: 2012 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence), developed for Allen County (Fort Wayne), Indiana.

The Allen County Reentry Court  has been a leader in the development of the reentry court model since Judge John Surbeck  initiated this exceptional program in 2001. the court relies on a host of service providers, including reentry director, treatment coordinator, case managers, mental health specialist, clinical psycologist, as well as, district parole supervisor, probation officer, and judge (though no D.A. or P.D.) to rehabilitate returnees. Since 2006, with the passage of  specific reentry court legislation, reentry courts that receive certification from the Indiana Judicial Center, have had full jurisdiction over parolees who participate in the reentry court (see: Indiana Legislation).  The Allen County Reentry Court  focuses on providing the returning offender with the rehabilitation services necessary to succeed, resourced by the local “Community Correction’s Agency”, and funded by the Indiana State Department of Corrections. The Indiana Parole Agency no longer has formal jurisdiction over the offender, but still works closely with the judge and court, as part of a drug court team, that provides a critical focus for community  organizations and services, and the monitoring of the returning offender.

The reentry court process begins when  prison inmates are informed by parole authorities that they are elligible for the  statutory “Community Transitions Program”, which may release inmates up to six months before the end of their prison term. Judge Surbeck sees the new participants shortly after their release from prison, two weeks later when their “Reintegration Plan” is approved (after a comprehensive series of risk/needs and psychological tests), and every two to six weeks until graduation, approximately one year later. Early electronic surveillance and  frequent monitoring visits to the parolee’s residence are an integral part of the program. The program is voluntary, and the court informal, relying on a contingency contract to provide appropriate incentives and sanctions. Parolees who do well can expect substantial reductions in their parole term. The reentry court itself, with its informal structure, focused on its therapeutic and public safety mission, does not hold parole revocation hearings, but passes them on to the state parole agency. Judge Suurbeck reports there are presently approximately 150 participants. Evaluations have shown a 30% reduction in recidivism and substantial financial savings to state and community. [see: Allen County Presentation]

[Note: The Allen Reentry Court also features a statutory “split sentencing” procedure that allows designated offenders to return to the sentencing court’s jurisdiction for probation supervision and services once their prison term has been completed.]

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