FAIRFIELD — California’s big criminal justice realignment effort is here and Solano County is poised to roll out its response.
The county is already offering some services to help keep the realignment population from committing crimes again, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment. But local law enforcement and criminal justice officials say the county must do more to deal with what the state deems “low-level” felons who previously would have been in state prisons and under state parole.
“This has been thrust on us by the state,” Fairfield Police Chief Walt Tibbet said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a gap between the release of the individuals and developing a system that will hopefully reduce recidivism.”
That could soon change, though Solano County’s proposed response has generated a degree of controversy. The county in coming weeks will consider creating what law enforcement and criminal justice officials have dubbed the “Solano County Centers for Positive Change” in Vallejo and Fairfield.
The Solano County Board of Supervisors will discuss realignment and could vote on establishing the centers when it meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the county Government Center, 678 Texas St.
Solano County plans to establish centers where former inmates will get cognitive behavior therapy, mental-health and substance-abuse prevention services, job skills help and other services. A Center for Positive Change is to be located at 355 Tuolumne St. in Vallejo.
Services are also to be provided in Fairfield, initially at both the downtown Probation Department at 475 Union Ave. and the county Health and Social Services complex in the Solano Business Park on Beck Avenue. The county at some point plans to consolidate all of the Fairfield services at a single Center for Positive Change, with the location yet to be announced.
A group of county law enforcement and criminal justice officials who meet as the Community Correctional Partnership are recommending the county take these steps by spending $2 million in realignment money from the state.
Of the 390 former “realignment” inmates under the supervision of the county Probation Department, 39 percent live in Vallejo and 31 percent in Fairfield. Of the remainder, 14 percent live in Vacaville, 9 percent in Suisun City, 6 percent in Dixon and 1 percent in Benicia.
The proposed Vallejo center ran into controversy. Some residents expressed concern that such a center would increase crime in the community and accused the county of using Vallejo as a guinea pig. Several Vallejo City Council members at their Dec. 18, 2012, meeting suggested the county establish a center in Fairfield first, or at least concurrent with a Vallejo center.
Chief Probation Officer Christopher Hansen at the Feb. 13 Community Corrections Partnership meeting said the goal is to treat both cities similarly.
“There will be mirror services provided in Fairfield and mirror services provided in Vallejo,” he said.
Among the fallout of the Vallejo controversy was changing the name of the service centers from “day reporting centers” to the “Solano County Centers for Positive Change.” The term “day reporting center” might conjure up images of former inmates hanging out outside a building all day, Hansen said.
Former inmates under county Probation Department supervision because of realignment already go to the Probation Department in downtown Fairfield, Hansen said. They don’t hang around the building, he said.
One goal is to create what is called “split sentences,” as other counties are doing. Some low-level felons could be released from jail before their sentence expires. Then they would be under the supervision of the Probation Department and local police departments and could be required to go to a Center for Positive Change.
Local officials see advantages to split sentences in some cases. They say an inmate who serves his or her full sentence in jail is set free with no supervision, something a split sentence would avoid. Also, split sentences could help ease jail overcrowding, when and if that becomes an issue again.
Centers for Positive Change could reduce recidivism by 10 percent to 30 percent, Hansen said. If that sounds low, Hansen noted the centers would serve only former inmates judged to be at high risk for committing further crimes. The rates could be much higher if it served former inmates with lower risks for reoffending, he said.
“But at the end of the day, would that have prevented something?” Hansen said. “Would that have prevented people from getting their homes broken into?”
Meanwhile, Sheriff Tom Ferrara plans to start a similar program to the Centers for Positive Change inside the jails. The Sheriff’s Office wants to teach inmates job skills and life skills.
“The key is I want to reduce recidivism,” Ferrara said.
Ferrara and Hansen talked about coordinating the programs that could be offered in jail with the programs offered at the Centers for Positive Change. They called the hoped-for transition when an inmate leaves jail the “warm handoff.”
State officials contend that communities can do a better job keeping criminals from reoffending than the state. Several local officials agree.
“I’m pretty confident that long term we’re going to be in the right direction, based on the partnership we have between county (police) chiefs, the district attorney, the sheriff, the Probation Department and social service groups,” Tibbet said.
Hansen compared the state bureaucracy to a huge boat in a canal. The county by comparison is, while not necessarily a speed boat, at least a house boat, he said.
“We have the option to react quickly to changes and have local programs and do it much quicker,” Hansen said. “We can do what’s working and, if it doesn’t work, we can move to something else.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr
At a glance
Who: Solano County Board of Supervisors
What: Realignment and Centers for Positive Change
When: 9 a.m. Tuesday
Where: County Government Center, 675 Texas St., Fairfield