Pauli Halstead: County lax with repeat felons
Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of three columns about lapses in programs to reduce reoffending among felons in Nevada County.
Nevada County has a policy of releasing many reoffending felons back into the community without sufficient probation supervision, mental health or substance use treatment, education or job training. Many are also homeless.
California’s AB 109 realignment legislation, passed in 2011, diverted thousands of non-violent felon inmates from state prisons to county jails and local probation departments.
Since then the state has sent more than $8 billion to counties to cover the costs of housing felons in the jails, as well as probation supervision.
Realignment legislation required each county in California to have a Community Corrections Partnership, which creates a yearly plan and budget to implement rehabilitation programs.
The mission statement for Nevada County’s partnership: “The mission and goal of the Nevada County Community Corrections Partnership is to comply with the Public Safety Realignment Act by adopting evidence-based, cost effective policies and practices that reduce recidivism, improve offender outcomes, and promote public safety.”
The Executive Committee’s members are Chief Probation Officer Mike Ertola, Sheriff Shannan Moon, District Attorney Cliff Newell, Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard, Public Defender Keri Klein, Health and Humans Services Director Ryan Gruver and Court Director Tonya Clark.
Since 2011, the Community Corrections Partnership has allocated a total of $21,900,622 in the realignment budget to reduce recidivism and protect the public.
However, only 5.1% of the allocations have been budgeted for in-patient and out-patient treatment, and only 3% for transitional housing. For the past three years, zero has been budgeted for education and job training.
The Sheriff’s Office share of that budget was 51.8% for housing felons. The Probation Department’s share was 38% for supervising felons in the community, with 61% of their budget going for salaries and benefits.
Why so little for rehabilitation programs?
To foster public trust, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and the Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee need to ensure standards of transparency, accuracy and accountability in all partnership plans and budgets.
The supervisors’ main role is to accept or reject the yearly partnership’s plan and budget. They don’t seem to be monitoring how the money is budgeted or if rehabilitation results are being achieved. In October of 2020, the board approved the 2020-21 partnership plan — the same as last year’s plan — apparently without review or an opportunity for public comment.
Furthermore, since 2017-18, the supervisors have waived the PowerPoint presentation, which requires the partnership’s chair to explain the plan and budget, therefore eliminating public scrutiny and ability to comment.
Given the fact that the Community Corrections Partnership had not met from May 2019 until November 2020, due to a lack of interest, there has not been the needed focus to achieve results.
Realignment legislation mandates that Community Corrections Partnerships implement proven evidence-based rehabilitation programs to deal with the increase in the jail population and monitoring felons in the community upon release.
But has realignment actually achieved its primary goals? This is questionable, given the fact that a high percentage of Nevada County felons continue to be rearrested at an alarming rate, causing a public safety risk and substantial economic loss to the community.
California defines recidivism as conviction of a new felony or misdemeanor committed within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction.
According to Ertola, the Nevada County recidivism rate is 15%. By comparison, the state puts the recidivism rate for felons at 50%, averaged over the past decade.
Currently, the Community Corrections Partnership has no data on the number of rearrests of felons. The fact that this data is not collected is an oversight that presents a public safety issue.
The other problem is that for various reasons, most of these repeat felons are not convicted of the new charges. As a result they are not placed on probation supervision and are released from jail without a rehabilitation plan in place. Taxpayers are paying for increased police time, jail time, court costs, and then having to bear the brunt of continuing crime and economic loss in the community.
Instead of continually releasing felons into the community with insufficient rehabilitation, the Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee must create a plan, budget and programs that reduce the reoffending rate, not just the recidivism rate.
This means coming up with a strategic partnership plan that will achieve measurable results. The Board of Supervisors has a responsibility to approve both a plan and budget that demonstrate a reduction in the reoffending rate and protect the public.
The constant release of reoffending felons without sufficient mental health and substance use treatment, job training, education, or housing reveals that the realignment funds are not being used effectively. The biggest waste of public funds is when you don’t solve the problem.
Pauli Halstead of Nevada City, a community activist, has studied this issue in depth for the past year.
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