How have the community workshops on crime and prison realignment gone, and how will they play into the county’s Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) plan?
A year ago, Smart on Crime Santa Cruz County initiated a community dialogue about the impending state prison realignment to prepare our county for the changes that were being planned. As a member of Smart on Crime, I have been working with justice practitioners, other elected officials, attorneys, local academics and community-based organizations to ensure that community members have a chance to weigh in on the biggest change to our criminal justice system in California history.
Last summer, the legislature passed AB 109 and designated Oct. 1 as the start date for having non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders serve their sentence in local jails instead of state prisons. The legislation created Community Corrections Partnerships (CCP) in each county, led by the director of Probation and including the Sheriff, a police chief, a representative from the county, the district attorney, a member of the judiciary, the public defender and the director of Health Services. Our local CCP has worked to be inclusive and has encouraged the participation of many other interested community members and organizations.
Our local CCP plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 4 (see the plan here) and is predicated on the use of evidence-based practices to reduce the jail population, reduce recidivism and increase public safety. Evidence-based practices refer to supervision policies, procedures, programs and practices demonstrated by scientific research to reduce recidivism. The plan is further broken down into six different workgroups, open to the public and include: Intervention and Services, Data Analysis and Capacity Building, Corrections Management, Community Supervision, Court Processing, and Community Engagement.
The Community Engagement Work Group incorporates the on-going Smart on Crime series with Community Engagement Workshops designed to elicit input from the community about alternatives to incarceration. Over the last month, two successful workshops were held in Live Oak and Watsonville that attracted more than 200 people and were simultaneously translated in Spanish and English. From these workshops, several themes surfaced:
-Jail should be used for violent and serious offenders. Many people said non-violent offenders, including drug offenders (other than sales and manufacturing), should not be incarcerated.
-There is a recognized need for more treatment and re-entry services that must begin in custody—services including education, job training/employment, substance abuse treatment, mental health services/counseling, housing, and positive social supports.
-Early intervention, education and pro-social activities for youth have been identified as critical and under-resourced prevention efforts.
Participants stressed the need to give people a second chance after they have served their time and encourage our community to increase acceptance of formerly incarcerated individuals by reducing judgment, stigma, or labeling people who have been through the criminal justice system. People at the workshops also acknowledged that community involvement plays an important role. Input from the workshops will be incorporated into the funding plan of the CCP.
Our county has been lauded in statewide reports (see the ACLU’s “California at a Crossroads”) for our commitment to following the intention of the law by working to help low-level offenders and reduce jail populations rather than increasing jail bed space and its associated long-term costs. Our sheriff has been a leader in developing innovative custody alternative programs that hold people accountable through electronic monitoring and planning for successful re-entry programs for new jail occupants who will now be in our county jail for much longer periods of time than in the past. The CCP has chosen to invest a significant portion of funding into intervention and treatment services that appropriately deal with addiction problems as a public health issue rather than simply a law enforcement issue.
Together, these efforts will allow our county to build on its successful program that has reduced our juvenile jail population and also to break the cycle of recidivism that is ultimately one of the greatest threats to public safety.