The state-mandated Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109*) continued to impact the County of San Luis Obispo in 2014, but County departments effectively collaborated with each other and community partners to overcome and understand AB 109 challenges and take advantage of opportunities presented by this shift in responsibility.

In 2014, SLO County managed AB 109 impacts on County Jail, as well as probation supervision, and has developed innovative programs to reduce re-offenses. The Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) of San Luis Obispo County is responsible for planning and implementing AB 109.

“One of the challenges for this year is that the base funding (from the State) is less than it was last year, and our Community Corrections Partnership has done a nice job of budgeting and setting some funding aside from previous years of funding,” said County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi.

The CCP has three primary goals: to maintain public safety, improve offender success rate in order to reduce recidivism and to increase alternatives to incarceration and treatment supports for low-level offenders. The partnership meets monthly to monitor the County’s realignment plan and reports annually to the Board of Supervisors and the public with an overview of achievements and challenges. One major challenge is the impact of AB 109 on the population of the County Jail.

Because low-level felony offenders now serve their sentences in the jail instead of state prison, the population of the jail has increased significantly, rising to an average daily population of 749 in June 2014 from 477 before realignment (June 2010). The jail population increased 57 percent between 2010 and 2014, yet the rate of increase has decreased each year compared to the previous year. It is estimated that between 30 to 35 percent of the jail population at any given time is an AB 109 offender.

Working to Decrease Recidivism at County Jail

County Jail has been significantly impacted by AB 109 in more ways than one. More beds were added to nearly every housing unit to adjust to the population increase, and the Women’s Honor Farm was relocated to the facility next door to the Men’s Honor Farm in order to provide more space for high- to medium-security inmates.

Jail culture has also been affected now that inmates are serving longer sentences as a result of AB 109. County Jail is now concerned with prison and gang politics, which were previously seen in state prisons, Capt. Michelle Cole of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office told the Board of Supervisors in an October 2014 presentation.

However, while AB 109 has presented challenges in the past three years, it has also created a lot of opportunities and allowed jail staff to institute new programs to decrease recidivism, Capt. Cole explained.

Recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in the criminal justice system and refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior. The County Jail is now providing in-custody programs, including General Education Development and/or English as a Second Language courses, computer classes, budgeting and credit counseling, yoga, art, garden projects, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, moral reconation therapy (which is a cognitive behavioral treatment system for offenders), parenting classes, and other programs, based on evaluated needs, in an effort to help offenders to avoid criminal behavior once they are released.

“One of our biggest successes at the jail has been collaborating with a lot of our community and County partners,” Cole said, adding that one of the most successful services has been the Jail Programs Unit, which is a collaborative effort between the Sheriff’s Office, County Probation Department and County Behavioral Health Department to identify high-risk inmates and provide the treatment and skills they need to transition back into the community.

Working with Increased Probation Caseloads

The County Probation Department’s caseload increased after AB 109 created two new populations under the department’s supervision: post-release community supervision offenders and split-sentenced mandatory supervision offenders.

The department has responded to the increased workload with innovative programs and creative solutions, including the implementation of evidence-based practices to assess the risks and needs of individuals under supervision, creation of special units with increased staffing to handle increased workload, and the increased use of electronic monitoring of offenders in the community using GPS devices.

However, as the total number of closed AB 109 probation cases increased year over year, so did the rate of recidivism, meaning that more people reoffended during their case supervision.

“Based on our risk assessment tool, this population is very high in our assessments of reoffending,” said Deputy Chief Probation Officer Robert Reyes. “In fact, 74 percent of AB 109 offenders under supervision are identified as high- or high-medium risk level, which means that they are 40 to 70 percent more likely to reoffend.”

Probation adopted a strategy to maximize public safety and reduce recidivism among the AB 109 population by combining effective supervision based on assessed risk level, while maintaining the current caseload average and participation in appropriate treatment services.

Innovative Treatment Programs to Reduce Re-Offenses

Substance abuse treatment is a very important part of reducing recidivism among AB 109 offenders. In fact, the recidivism rate falls to about 15 percent for offenders who are successful in drug or alcohol treatment. To help reduce recidivism among AB 109 offenders, the County focused on treatment and supportive programs both in the County Jail and in the community.

Jail-based services included the Jail Programs Unit referenced above. The most significant changes have been the implementation of drug treatment services and collaboration with community-based providers to bring additional programs into housing units, such as grief and loss counseling, parenting classes and anger management courses.

As a result, County Jail has seen higher and more consistent program participation among inmates. Additionally, 58 percent of inmates who received drug and alcohol treatment while in custody in FY 2013-14 also went on to continue drug and alcohol treatment in the community upon release.

At the same time, the Behavioral Health Department led successful post-release behavioral health treatment services and case management services to the AB 109 population in a program called Post-Release Treatment Services. Recently released offenders attend weekly Post Release Offender Meetings to facilitate placement in appropriate treatment programs in the community, and the Probation and Behavioral Health departments work collaboratively with several community providers to offer additional services and resources as need, including employment services, vocational training, tattoo removal, reproductive health services, and transportation services.

The County will continue to address challenges and take advantage of opportunities presented by the Public Safety Realignment Act by fostering further collaboration between departments and community partners to develop effective ways to achieve the goals outlined in the County’s Realignment Plan.

Read the full status report on Implementation of the Public Safety Realignment Act for further details on these programs and their outcomes.

*What is AB 109?

In 2011, the Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109) transferred from the State of California to counties the responsibility for the incarceration and community supervision of offenders and parolees convicted of certain lower-level felonies, defined as non-serious, non-violent and non-registered sex offenses. Along with several law changes came funding from the State to the counties, and each county developed a plan for how it would implement those changes in a way that best suits its local community.