Board Approves Realignment Plan Measures

June 19, 2012 | 3:25pm

Home detention with electronic monitoring instead of jail time will soon be offered to some local criminals not sentenced for serious, violent or sexual offenses.

Starting next month, GPS ankle monitoring devices and home arrest will be used for about 300 offenders who are now being managed by the County under Public Safety Realignment, which shifts responsibility for some criminal offenders from the state to the County. Sheriff's officials say this option for offenders who are less likely to re-offend frees up jail beds for more serious criminals.

Public safety officials presented the program to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday as part of an update on the progress of a local collaborative plan to implement realignment in San Diego County.

Under realignment, criminals sentenced to prison for a host of non-violent offenses are now supervised by County Probation instead of state parole. And people convicted of hundreds of non-serious, non-violent felonies will now serve their terms in local jail, not state prison.

Board members voted unanimously to approve several measures spelled out in the plan. These include measures to manage so-called “post release offenders”—people released from state prison and supervised by County Probation in the community; measures to expand rehabilitative programming and re-entry programs for the growing jail population, and the Sheriff’s home detention electronic monitoring program to reduce the jail population.

Board members and the County’s Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard praised the strong local collaboration between public safety, health and social services, and community organizations in managing the unprecedented shifts in the criminal justice system created by realignment.

“We’ve got the most collaborative public safety officials in the state,” Ekard noted.

Despite praising local efforts, Board members were hesitant to speak too optimistically about realignment, blaming the state for a lack of planning and responsibility in transferring such a critical public safety responsibility to County government, and skeptical of the state’s commitment to funding and supporting the shift in the long term

The electronic monitoring program approved Tuesday is one measure that will help ease the surge in local jail population since October. Currently, the realignment population comprises about 25 percent of people in custody, Undersheriff Ed Prendergast told the Board.

Those offenders selected for the home detention electronic monitoring program will have strict individualized schedules and any deviation must be reported to their program case manager in advance. Offenders are able to work, continue their education and attend drug and alcohol counseling, but they agree to remain inside their homes outside those hours. Participants who violate these conditions may be removed from the program.

Predergast explained alternative custody options are critical to managing the jail populations.

“Unless affirmative steps are taken, the jails will soon reach capacity,” he said.

Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins updated the the Board on the impacts of realignment to Probation, noting that the goal in supervising post release offenders is to hold them accountable while referring them to services to help them make positive changes and keep them from committing new crimes.

The County has already received 2,047 post release offenders since October, 11 percent more than the state projected for this time frame.

Jenkins noted that post release offenders would previously have been supervised by State Parole and have not been released from prison early.

“What’s different now is they’re supervised by my probation officers instead,” Jenkins explained.

And although these offenders were sent to prison for a non-violent crime, Jenkins said that many have more troubling criminal histories.

“We’ve seen many who have violent or serious offenses,” he said.

Jenkins said that probation officers have a new tool under realignment called “flash incarceration” that allows officers to send an offender to jail without a court hearing for up to 10 days for violations of probation terms. Probation officers have used this tool more than 500 times, for violations such as not passing a drug test, Jenkins said. Such “swift and certain” consequences help hold offenders accountable, he said.

Additionally, from October to the end of May, probation officers have initiated 216 revocation hearings to send post release offenders back to jail for serious violations or new crimes. That’s a roughly 10 percent revocation rate.

What kind of criminals are these post release offenders? The majority were convicted of drug and alcohol related offenses; another 36 percent were convicted of property crimes. Jenkins added many of those who commit property crimes are motivated to the crime in order to get money to buy drugs or alcohol.

Jenkins said the County’s goal is to increase offender enrollment in substance abuse or mental health services. Under the local realignment plan, a behavioral health screening team comprises mental health and drug treatment clinicians evaluates offenders as they are released for substance abuse and mental health issues, Jenkins said. Offenders are routed to treatment to address their needs.

Jenkins told the Board that to successfully manage the projected increase of offenders to the County system, they will need to use the limited jail space for more serious offenders, offer re-entry services to those in custody, and use proven methods for sentencing, supervision and case management.

The realignment plan calls for expanding its local re-entry program at East Mesa Detention Facility, and the Board on Tuesday approved a funding mechanism for an additional 400 beds for those inmates who are nearing release.

The program currently provides substance abuse services, educational and vocational programming, counseling services and helps inmates reassess their thought processes and behavior so they can make better life choices.

“The goal of this program is to reduce recidivism through the development and improvement of an offender’s life skills necessary for successful reintegration into society and successful completion of their probation,” Prendergast said.