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‘Smart on Crime’ Plan Not So Smart without Transparency and Community Help

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - California is making the transition to become smart on crime. AB 109 [link] that took effect in October of this year shifts the responsibility for newly convicted offenders who are deemed to be non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offenders from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to local counties. Offenders can be placed in county jail or on probation instead of detention at a State Correctional facility.

This new “smart on crime” approach is intended to create innovative and effective responses to prison overcrowding and to decrease recidivism. Additionally, it falls in line with the Supreme Court Brown v. Plata decision that ordered the state to remedy the safety and health conditions caused by overcrowding.

Although AB 109 is good on paper and is poised to impact sentencing and prison reform, local communities are not yet aligned and are reassessing public safety on the ground level.

The biggest for communities is capacity. Some local communities are questioning the capacity of counties, like Los Angeles County, Sheriffs, and Probation to carry out this new measure. The state is allotting $112 million to Los Angeles County the first year for an estimated 9,000 inmates, but no commitments have been made for the future. These inmates represent a new load – an addition to
the existing load in county jails or probation.

It’s hard to swallow that there will be reduced recidivism and better rehabilitation when the County Sheriff’s Department is under scrutiny for poor management and abuse and the Department of Probations, under-staffed due to budget cuts. Respectively, most of the $112 million is going toward staffing than it is for community-based programs that are supposed to be partners in realignment.

Local communities can only speculate that there may be limited capacity to truly supervise those who are sentenced to probation; and a significant amount may not be seen by a probation officer resulting in a risk to the public.

Communication is lacking at best about who is likely to be considered for probation or for jail-time; and what notifications are required. It seems that this is a judgment call for whoever is designated the decision-maker. Moreover, there is a black-whole of information about supervision standards for those in alternative custody or home detention.

The timing for AB 109 is not aligned with the stars. With local communities worried about over concentration and the lack of resources to ensure public safety, it is hard to envision where the community stands with this criminal justice realignment.

High unemployment and social services are limited for the necessary amount of community resource planning. For the City of Los Angeles, the Community Care Facilities Ordinance will more than likely derail the creation of halfway houses or other similar custody programs in low density areas or shut down existing ones causing some offenders to violate and others not be released.

The success of AB 109 truly hinges on partnerships and dialogue with the local community to make reentry of offenders and the formerly incarcerated a success. The community can only be aligned when information is transparent; and the community understands their role in realignment efforts.

(Janet Denise Kelly offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at –cw

Tags: state prisons, AB 109, prisoner transfer, LA County, County Sheriffs, prisoner release, halfway houses, Community Care Facilities, Los Angeles, crime, public safety, Los Angeles County, jail, County Jail

Vol 9 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 29, 2011