It’s been three years since California’s Public Safety Realignment Plan (AB 109), one of the most significant changes to California’ criminal justice system in decades, went into effect. Due to overcrowding in state prisons, on Oct. 1, 2011, California state legislature shifted responsibility from the state to counties for the custody, treatment and supervision of individuals convicted of specified non-violent, non-serious, non-sex (non-non-non) crimes. Now, at the start of its third year, the full effects of AB 109 are beginning to be seen. In El Dorado County, that’s a good thing.
“Before realignment, a judge had two choices — send felons to prison followed by parole with the state, or put them in jail and on probation at the county level,” said El Dorado County Chief Probation Officer Greg Sly. “Now, instead of going to prison, non-non-non offenders serve their terms in county jails or split their time between jail and probation, and non-non-non prisoners do their parole at the county level.”
Public safety realignment in El Dorado County
To implement the Public Safety Realignment Plan, each county created a community corrections partnership (CCP) and an executive committee — a group of seven including the county’s chief probation officer, chief of police and sheriff, among others — to make recommendations to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. In El Dorado County, the CCP looked specifically at ways to reduce recidivism.
“We really started looking at what kinds of inmates we had and ways we could keep them from reoffending,” said Randy Peshon, captain of the El Dorado County Division of Custody. “Eighteen percent of the offender population is mentally ill. How could we help them?”
With this in mind, using AB 109 funds allocated to the county and protected by Proposition 30, El Dorado County CCP began increasing efforts to provide inmates with support behind jail walls.
“We started interviewing inmates,” said Peshon. “‘What brought you to jail? What can we do about it while you’re here?’” The CCP then began bolstering its community partnerships — such as with Lake Tahoe Community College — to provide inmates with the opportunity to receive treatment, learn job skills and build a resume while still behind bars.
But it didn’t stop there. The most difficult part of an inmate’s transition back into society is after they are released.
“Evidence shows that the more things you put on a person to do in order to succeed, the more likely they are to fail,” said Peshon.
For this reason, the CCP came up with the idea of a Community Corrections Center (CCC) — a one-stop shop supplementing the department of corrections where offenders could report to their probation officers, be assessed and receive treatment (including anger management, counseling, drub rehab, etc.) all in one place. The 4,500-square foot center located on Durock Road in Shingle Springs, which is scheduled for completion in August, includes health and human services, mental health services, probation, and nonprofit offices, a group treatment room, an adult school room, a computer lab and an extra room with space to expand to up to 6,000 square feet.
In addition to looking at the success of its inmates, El Dorado County has focused on updating its jail facilities and health care options for inmates, who may now reside in jail for multiple years, as well as its GPS monitoring systems. The Public Safety Realignment Plan also allows for flash incarcerations, which allow probation officers to put parolees in jail for up to 10 days without going back to court.
“Studies have shown that quick and sure punishments are better,” said Sly. “If you have to wait for a trial, the point is often lost. With flash incarcerations, however, offenders know immediately that they messed up.”
El Dorado County safer
This fall, four of El Dorado County’s CCP executive board members will have transferred to other counties or retired from their positions. Chief Sly is himself planning to retire this September and says it is with great pride that he will hand over this program to the new chief probation officer.
“This is the biggest change in the justice system in 35 years. It’s been a chance for us to lead historical change and a unique opportunity for counties to focus resources where local needs are. El Dorado County had a good system in place before realignment — with room in our jails and outstanding collaboration between the Sheriff’s Office, probation and community agencies — and now, three years later, the county should feel safe, not fear. El Dorado County is safer because of realignment. I couldn’t be more proud.”