FAIRFIELD — Solano County supervisors on Tuesday weighed how Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial public safety realignment program is playing out locally.
The Board of Supervisors gave no sweeping verdict. But supervisors who spoke seemed to be satisfied with the county’s newly launched efforts to use counseling and other services try to keep former inmates from committing further crimes.
“We really do have a forward-thinking program here,” Supervisor Skip Thomson said.
Thomson contrasted today’s crime-fighting approach to that in 1992, when he began a previous stint on the board. The approach then boiled down only to arresting criminals, prosecuting criminals and locking them up, he said.
He and other supervisors heard a presentation from county Chief Probation Officer Christopher Hansen during the board’s regular meeting at the county Government Center.
The state in 2011 shifted responsibilities for what it deemed “non-non-non” offenders in the state prison and parole systems to counties — “non-non-non” standing for non-violent, non-serious and non-sex offenders. It also shifted money to counties to deal with the extra duties.
But questions immediately arose following this move that helped deal with overcrowded state prisons. Among them was how to stop these “non-non-non” offenders from committing further crimes once released from jail.
A key to Solano County’s strategy for dealing with realignment is what local officials call The Centers for Positive Change. The goal is to reform criminals so they don’t commit more crimes in the community and return to jail.
One center is located in Vallejo and one in Fairfield. Former inmates chosen by the Probation Department go there for mental health and substance abuse treatment and for treatments that focus on changing criminal behavior and thinking.
But at this point there’s no track record to show whether the programs are working.
“You have to look at the big picture over a couple of years to see if we had impact,” Hansen said.
Hansen pointed out that the county is working with a group of former inmates that poses considerable challenges.
“There’s no fear of jail,” Hansen said. “There’s no fear of that because they’ve grown up their whole life like that.”
Then there’s the challenge of helping these former inmates get jobs.
“A lot have never worked in their lives,” Hansen said.
Solano County has used the Centers for Positive Change to try to get the courts to increase the number of split sentences it imposes. Split sentences allow the courts to order “non-non-non” felons to serve part of their sentence in county jail and part under Probation Department supervision. The Probation Department can do such things as require them to attend the Centers for Positive Change.
Hansen said the alternative is to let these felons serve their county jail time and then be released with no supervision. Meanwhile, they’ve made new friends in jail.
“That’s problematic to me,” Hansen said.
Solano County from October to December 2013 had 27 percent of the “non-non-non” offenders receive split sentences, compared to the statewide average of 28 percent and Contra Costa County’s 89 percent.
Much of what supervisors heard on Tuesday amounted to statistics.
Solano County when realignment started in 2011 had a jail population of 772. That rose to more than 1,025 by May 2013 and has since fallen to just more than 910 in January. Of that 910, 269 inmates – or 30 percent – are connected with realignment.
The county’s jails have a capacity of 1,081 inmates, with another 362 beds to come this summer with the opening of the Claybank Jail expansion.
Then there are former “non-non-non” inmates who, before realignment, would have been supervised by the state under parole. They are instead supervised by the county Probation Department. Their number rose from about 100 in January 2012 to a high of about 390 in summer 2012. That number was 338 in January.
And there is the financial bottom line. The county for the 2013-14 fiscal year ending June 30 has budgeted about $15.6 million on realignment programs. It has $17.1 million available from the state, with $6.3 million left over from prior years.
But the state this fiscal year gave the county about $10.7 million and this could fall in coming years.
County spokesman Stephen Pierce said some of the costs this fiscal year are capital and start-up costs. Still, the county is concerned that the state in future years will cover all program costs, given the state is changing how it allocates realignment money.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.