By Patricia Marrone Bennett
The Public Safety Realignment Act, known as AB 109 or “Realignment”, has given our local communities a chance to implement “the most significant change in criminal justice in California in more than three decades”. California is requiring counties to oversee all non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders by either putting them on county-supervised probation or by having them serve their time in county jails instead of sending them to State prison. Counties will also be responsible for post-release supervision and rehabilitative programming. Realignment is based on “a fundamental acknowledgement that counties are better positioned to integrate public health and social services as part of rehabilitation and reentry” than the State as a whole.
Will counties focus Realignment efforts and funds on providing the services and support that many caught up in the criminal justice system need? Will funds be spent on mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, employment and vocational services, and housing supports which research has shown to be essential ingredients necessary to prevent recidivism? Will the funds that are allocated to counties be used for community based non-profits and county health care systems? While Realignment encourages counties to employ community-based alternatives and evidence-based approaches, there is currently no mechanism for accountability.
The ACLU conducted a review of counties’ Realignment implementation plans, and found that at least 32 of 58 counties planned to use AB 109 funding to expand jail capacity. Their projected jail expenditures totaled over $45 million.
According to the ACLU:
“While realignment encourages counties to use alternatives to incarceration, state funding allocations to the counties thus far send a contradictory message. On the one hand, the state urges counties not to repeat at the local level the mistakes that led to the state prison overcrowding crisis. On the other hand, the state has allocated more money to counties that have historically incarcerated the most people, and on top of AB 109 funding is providing hundreds of millions of dollars more earmarked for county jail expansion, incentivizing the very practices that led to prison overcrowding in the first place.”
If counties use AB 109 dollars to build jails instead of providing services, we will end up with the same failed practices and systems that we created at the State level, and lose the opportunity to fund much-needed health and human service programs.
RDA recently completed an interim evaluation of Santa Clara County’s implementation of their Public Safety Realignment Plan. The County sought an assessment of progress towards both process and outcome measures, as well as objectives to guide future implementation efforts.
The evaluation used a mixed methods approach, in which data related to the client population’s demographics, risk level, supervision outcomes and services dosage was analyzed against qualitative data from numerous interviews with agency staff, service providers and members of the AB109 population. In addition, we conducted benchmarking interviews with key public safety personnel from the 12 largest California counties to inform recommendations for future evaluation efforts.
As a result of this work, Santa Clara County will have a clear picture of their progress, including key successes such as the formation of a multi-service Reentry Center, and areas for future work that include ongoing efforts to improve cross-agency collaboration.
In addition to the evaluation report, RDA built an evaluation dashboard that clearly and graphically illustrates realignment-related progress and can be updated by County staff on an ongoing basis to inform their internal efforts and communicate progress to a variety of stakeholders, including service providers, the target population and their families, the general population, and the Board of Supervisors.