Another View: Despite challenges, correctional realignment in Placer County a model of collaboration

By: Jack Duran, Placer County District 1 supervisor
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Much has been made about the State of California’s efforts to shift the cost and burden of correctional supervision for alleged “low-risk,” or non-violent offenders onto county governments through enactment of AB 109, also known as “Public Safety Realignment.” To briefly recap, AB 109 came about as a result of failed policies that led to extreme prison over-crowding, and led the United States Supreme Court this past May to direct California to reduce the prison population by 31,000 inmates In addition to shifting supervision of many non-violent criminal offenders to the county level, AB 109 requires counties to use “evidence-based practices” like alternative sentencing and programs addressing specific needs or behaviors. The theory, according to some experts, is that by addressing the root causes of specific risk factors like alcohol and substance abuse, we can reduce crime and the corresponding costs of incarceration. While the evidence suggests that both crime reductions and upward of a half billion dollars in savings to the state are achievable with this new approach, realignment comes with significant challenges for local government. Most notable is the fact that AB 109 provides counties with just a fraction of the funding used to house and treat these individuals in state facilities. In other words, for the many local governments already facing tough budget choices, realignment has been like receiving an unwelcome house guest. In some cases, the debate over how best to implement the new law has spawned very public conflicts between public agencies — with ongoing deficits and non-realignment policy differences only fanning the flames. This has not been the case here in Placer County, where the planning process for implementation correctional re-alignment has been consistent with our long history of collaboration among the county Sheriff, District Attorney, Public Defender, Departments of Probation and Health and Human Services, and city law enforcement representatives — collectively known as the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP). Over the summer, the Placer County CCP held numerous public meetings to develop a plan to best serve our community and divide up over $4 million in state and county designated funds that could be required to implement realignment over the next 18 months. The county’s plan includes maximizing capacity at our North Auburn Correctional facility, use of the soon-to-be completed South Placer facility, and deployment of electronic monitors and other tools to ensure robust supervision of all offenders. It also consists of our probation department partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to assess each returning offender and developing a rehabilitation/case management plan that considers various factors — including risk of re-offending and the need for treatment of underlying issues like alcohol or drug dependency. Where evidenced-based practices will be utilized, rehabilitation plans will include a strong emphasis on accountability — to include the prospect of incarceration for non-compliance. The process of coming to a workable solution within the CCP itself was not without controversy — including heated debate concerning incarceration vs. alternative sentencing, and pleas for additional funding by CCP members. That said, as a member of the CCP, I believe we’ve created a well-rounded plan that is both fiscally responsible and reflects an unshakable commitment to public safety. Most importantly, the plan is more stick than carrot. Law breakers will be held accountable, and those who change their behavior will have an opportunity to succeed. While many communities are facing the prospect of additional cuts on vital services to comply with realignment mandates, Placer County has prepared itself for such contingencies, and is able to support AB 109 implementation this year with reserves. That said, the state will need to do more in the future to ensure local governments have the resources necessary to make the program a long-term success. Rest assured, no matter what happens at the state level, we will continue to make public safety the top priority of Placer County government. And I know I speak for my fellow board members in expressing our appreciation to all CCP members for their hard work and dedication throughout the realignment planning process. Jack Duran is the Placer County Supervisor for District 1, which represents portions of Roseville and some of the area just outside the city’s boundary.