Pauli Halstead: Safety at stake tracking felons
Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of three columns about lapses in programs to reduce reoffending among felons in Nevada County.
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.
Nevada County states the recidivism rate is 15%. By comparison, the state recidivism rate for felons has averaged 50% over the last decade.
The rearrest data, however, shows a different story.
In Nevada County, many reoffending felons are not being reconvicted, which means they are not placed on supervised probation or enrolled in rehabilitation programs.
Unless the district attorney, public defender and court work together to ensure a conviction when a felon commits another crime, most will be released back into the community only to reoffend again and again.
Before releasing a felon from jail, there should be a risk assessment hearing in court to determine if the individual is likely to reoffend while waiting for adjudication of the current crime. This step is not happening.
The Nevada County Community Corrections Partnership, which oversees felons according to rules laid out in California’s AB 109 legislation, has no data on the number of rearrests taking place.
The fact that this data is not collected is an oversight that’s a public safety risk and results in millions of dollars in damage to the community.
It’s important to track, through data collection and reports, to clearly see just how many felons are reoffending and at what rate. Data regarding rearrests is important even if they are not reconvicted. The recidivism rate might be low, but it does not reflect the reoffending rate, which is substantially higher.
Neither incarceration nor probation supervision have been effective in reducing the reoffending rate. The jail does not provide in-depth mental health assessments or adequate mental health and drug treatment. Seventy-six percent of felons are released from custody within a month’s time.
Currently, there are insufficient rehabilitation programs for felons, and participation in these programs is low. Housing remains one of the top three criminogenic needs for felons. Individuals without stable housing are more likely to reoffend. Also, the Probation Department cannot effectively supervise homeless felons if they cannot be located.
Of further concern is that felons are not tracked after completing in-patient treatment, out-patient treatment or transitional housing to see if these programs are reducing the reoffending rate.
Moreover, many mentally ill and drug addicted felons find it difficult to adhere to probation rules and as a result cycle in and out of jail. Jailing people for probation violation does nothing to address the underlying problems — homelessness, mental illness, addiction, lack of employment and insufficient education.
When in jail, people lose their Medi-Cal and other benefits, making it necessary to reapply once released. They may also lose their job (financial stability), housing, personal belongings, pets and vehicles, resulting in even more stress and inability to function.
Recovery from criminality is almost impossible without long-term treatment, housing, stable employment and support.
The following represents three months of rearrest data I collected from the daily Jail Media Report and the Nevada County Superior Court Case Information, both accessed on-line. This data should be incorporated into a Community Corrections Partnership database to understand the problem and take corrective action:
— Total arrests October through December 2020: 508
— Felons arrested: 170
— Felons rearrested two or more times since 2011: 162, or 95%
— Felons released from jail within a month: 129, or 76%
— Felons arrested multiple times in 2020: 64, or 38%
— Homeless felons rearrested: 86, or 51%
— Homeless felons released from jail within a month: 56, or 33% of total arrests
— Felons on Post Release Community Supervision: 14, or 8%
— Felons arrested on charges related to drugs and alcohol, such as possession of a controlled substance, driving under the influence: 85, or 50%
— Felons arrested on charges related to theft, such as shoplifting, burglary, grand theft, vehicle theft, vandalism: 34, or 20%
— Felons arrested on charges related to violence, such as domestic violence, assault and battery, possession of firearms or other weapon, injury to child, hit and run, fires: 53, or 31%
Only by having accurate data can you identify the problem and then take steps to solve it.
The Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee needs to initiate accurate data-collecting mechanisms to track each individual as they move through the system. Under no circumstances should reoffending felons be released into the community without an effective rehabilitation plan in place and a system committed to recovery.
It’s important to track each individual while they are on probation supervision and are participating in recovery programs, making sure they are in compliance to their plan and are not reoffending.
Measuring results through data collection and reports is the only way to know what is working or not working. The safety and well-being of the community is at stake.
Pauli Halstead of Nevada City, a community activist, has studied this issue in depth for the past year.
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