Transcript: Part II of the Public Policy Institute of California panel on the effects of the public safety realignment – June 28, 2013

Part II: Partial transcript of the Public Policy Institute of California panel on the effects of the public safety realignment in California on June 28, 2013:

David Lesher, Director of Government Affairs at PPIC:
Is it correct to say that not all counties started full to begin with. Some face more challenges with Realignment than others.

Matthew Cate, Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties and former Secretary of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation:
Yeah, well, I didn’t understand as Secretary of Corrections of just how diverse the situations were in California’s counties. I don’t think it’s possible to understand it until you really walk in their shoes…It’s really a diverse situation out there.

David Lesher, Director of Government Affairs at PPIC:
Linda Penner, is it working? Or what do we know about what’s working and what’s not?

Linda Penner, Chief Probation Officer, Fresno County Probation Department, and Executive Director of the Board of State and Community Corrections:
Too soon to tell. I’m going to borrow an answer from my colleague down at the end of the table.

But what I can tell you is it has not been catastrophic. The sky has not fallen. There have been instances where bad things happened but bad things were happening before, and at the end of the day we weren’t going to cure that or exacerbate that in many ways with Realignment. So I think we have to face the music on that. There are instances all over the state of California where some things are going very well.

Probation has been underfunded in the adult world for since 1977. And if you all remember your history, back in 1977 we had determinate sentencing come along and interestingly enough the same Governor. [Laughter]

…And I’m not saying that was a bad thing. That played a role for that period of time.

But what we saw is that as the prisons became more populated, the adult probation world became less funded. And so I think we experienced some of the fallout of that happening year over year.

And when I look back at Realignment, I think probation is absolutely up for the job. I think they know how to hold people accountable and at the same time know how to gear people to life changes and how to find them ways into programs and talk to them about life skills and motivate them to move away from a lifestyle that is not working for them obviously.

We demonstrated that with 678. Remember, that was the precursor to Realignment. That’s when the powers that be at that time – Secretary Cate – came up with an equation wherein individuals that were on county probation that no longer went to CDCR we were able to split the benefit of that cost-wise. And when they funded adult probation with 678, we had a number of positive outcomes from that.

So am I down in the dumps about Realignment? No. Did I wish for Realignment for Christmas that year I was President of the Chiefs? No.

But what I can tell you is that sometimes – you all heard this – crisis can be the mother of invention, and I think that’s where we’re at. We had a crisis. We had to react to that crisis. I think we did that as gracefully as we could, as thoughtful as we could.

Do we need more thought? Yes. Do we need to find ways to tweak an incredibly historic, aggressive change in the way we did business in the California criminal justice system? Yes. But I think the state’s up for it.

David Lesher, Director of Government Affairs at PPIC:
Sen. Hancock, how do you think it’s going…?

CA Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee:
Actually, I think that for a paradigm shift, as the sheriff said, in the way we think about, organize, and fund a major public system, it is going extraordinarily well.

Sure, we have a few counties that really want to turn back the clock. Their representatives come to my committee with a bill every couple of weeks to send more prisoners back to the state and never, by the way, followed by any of the money that the state put in the Constitution for them, but to erode Realignment. And we’ve been watching that and I am happy to say that hasn’t happened.

But many more are stepping up to the plate and really looking at how they manage their jails, how they think about their corrections problems, and doing a remarkable job. And then there are some counties that did quite well originally and they are driving with this.

And I think that one of the really good things about Realignment is that it has allowed us to isolate some of the challenges. We understand them a little better a year and a half in.

And I would say that jail management is a major problem. We have counties releasing people early who don’t use risk assessments.

Now, you know, there are easy things that we can do to get a better managed jail system, and we can also look at the fact that jails have traditionally not really done rehabilitation.

By far, the largest number of people in any county jail are pre-trial people who can’t make bail. So we know we have to look at bail; we have to look at sentencing; we have to look at risk assessments. But at least we know that now.

And I just wanted to point out, you know, change is always hard. It’s always hard.

And if any of you ever fight in a former life – I was a graduate student in social psychology and they used to say “Change is painful.” People never change unless continuing the way they are is more painful than the pain of change.

And we were there in California. We had an internationally recognized failed prison system – corrections system – and the U.S. Supreme Court said we have to change that. And we are. It’s pretty amazing.

…This isn’t just us. This is the Wall Street Journal one week ago today, “As prisons squeeze budgets, GOP re-thinks crime focus.”

There is an organization right now called Right on Crime led by Newt Gingrich and a number of other people operating in a number of states. Their goal preaches rehabilitation and relieve the pressure on our prisons and jails.

So I think we’re part of a great effort…


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