Pauli Halstead: Focus on rehabilitation of felons
Editor’s note: This is the last of a series of three columns about lapses in programs to reduce reoffending among felons in Nevada County.
Because of the financial cost and societal impact of a reoffending felon, the community has a vested interest in ensuring that California’s AB 109 realignment rehabilitation programs are both cost effective and meeting their primary goal of reducing recidivism and protecting the public.
Research shows that rehabilitation programs can reduce recidivism by changing inmates’ behavior based on their individual needs and risks.
Felons are more likely to reoffend if they are homeless, mentally ill or addicted, unemployed, or lack education. The Nevada County Community Corrections Partnership has invested in programs aimed to mitigate those challenges.
But is the partnership validating the success of their programs through data collection and reports?
Are the Board of Supervisors and the Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee making sure that the contracted vendors, hired to provide evidence-based programs, are successful in reducing the reoffending rate?
Currently, we have no measurable answers.
Problem 1: Release of felons without having their rehabilitative needs met.
Reoffending felons need to be assessed while in jail to address their needs prior to release. This isn’t happening well when 76% are promptly released. Ineffective or inaccurate assessments result in a failure to place felons in programs that would most effectively reduce their risk of reoffending.
The Community Corrections Partnership has neither consistently placed felons on waiting lists for rehabilitation programs nor prioritized those with greatest need correctly. This has resulted in a failure to meet the rehabilitative needs for a large percentage of felons who are at-risk for reoffending.
The Executive Committee has an obligation to see that the contracted programs meet the need. The low enrollment rate of felons into these programs needs to be evaluated.
Problem 2: Lack of oversight.
The partnership has not developed tracking and performance measures for its rehabilitation programs that would target a reduction in the reoffending rate. There is currently no analysis that determines whether the contracted vendor programs are effective in reducing the reoffending rate or are cost effective.
If the programs are not reducing the reoffending rate, they cannot possibly be cost effective.
Problem 3: Budgeting that does not achieve its goal.
Since 2011 the Nevada County Community Corrections Partnership allocated $21,900,622 in AB 109 realignment funds so that it could provide rehabilitation programs.
It then becomes necessary to evaluate how this funding was used and if it has been successful. To this end, new accountability mechanisms should be in place, related to rehabilitation programs, including additional oversight, performance targets, and reoffending evaluations conducted by audit.
Community Corrections Partnership budgeted expenditures since 2011:
Sheriff’s Office: $11,346,761 or 51.8% of the total
Probation Department: $8,259,812 or 38%
Health and Human Services: $1,339,074 or 6.1%
Police, District Attorney, Public Defender: $950,215 or 4.3%
Budgeting for success is essential.
It’s obvious from the way the allocations have been used since 2011 that the budgeting has not demonstrated a goal toward rehabilitation treatment.
For fiscal year 2020-21, budgeting for in-patient and out-patient treatment was reduced by $150,000. There was zero budgeted for education and job training. The Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee and Board of Supervisors need to approve a budget which will produce results.
The biggest waste of public funds is when you don’t solve the problem.
Develop a strategic partnership plan: This would include detailed objectives and operational action steps. The Executive Committee needs to assure the public that contracted evidence-based programs are achieving measurable success in reducing the reoffending rate, as well as the recidivism rate.
Goal development: The Executive Committee — along with additional members of the Board of Supervisors, contracted vendors, law enforcement and community members — would participate in meetings to identify goals on which to develop the yearly partnership plan and programs. The purpose of these meetings would be to engage community members in the plan development process, gather input on the goals, and identify potential programs to support those goals.
Refine the goals and develop objectives: Once the goals are reviewed and refined by members of the partnership, they can begin the development of measurable objectives that meet the SMART criteria — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-limited.
Develop activities, time lines and measurable outcomes and outputs: The partnership needs to hold a series of public work sessions to take the next step in planning. This work should include identifying specific action steps that will ensure the partnership achieves its realignment goals, time lines and measurable outcomes.
The Community Corrections Partnership should have reliable data and tools for assessing the rehabilitative needs of its felon population. It should also provide adequate oversight to ensure that its contracted vendors are using only evidence-based curricula that will show a measurable reduction in the reoffending rate.
In the future, the Executive Committee needs to budget more effectively, allocating more resources for rehabilitation programs.
The optimum way to solve the problem, however, is for the Board of Supervisors, all contracted agencies, and the community to engage in the process.
Given the fact that the Community Corrections Partnership had not met from May 2019 until November 2020, there has not been the focus necessary to achieve results.
All Nevada County Community Corrections Partnership members need to take a more active role in making sure felons are receiving rehabilitative treatment mandated by the Realignment Act.
Pauli Halstead of Nevada City, a community activist, has studied this issue in depth for the past year.
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