Prisoner absorption

County doing well on taking over state prisoner incarceration

Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith inside Butte County Jail.

Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith inside Butte County Jail.

CN&R File photo

On Monday (Oct. 8) Assemblyman Jim Nielsen held a press conference at the State Capitol to speak against AB 109, the bill put into place a year ago designed to depopulate the state’s overcrowded prisons by sending low-level offenders to county jails.

“This legislation, unlike any other before, has unleashed an unprecedented crime wave across the state over the past year, and it started in the very first week,” said Nielsen. “This crime wave is real; AB 109 is not working.”

There is no such thing, he said, as low-level offenders.

The next morning the Butte County Board of Supervisors received an update from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s chief probation officer on how well the so-called prisoner realignment program was working in Butte, part of which is in Nielsen’s Assembly district. The information came from a report on the year-old Alternative Custody Supervision (ACS) program to mitigate the impacts of AB 109 on the jail and protect public safety.

The ACS allows prisoners to serve their time in homes and requires them to wear electronic ankle bracelets to monitor their movements and locations. They are not allowed to leave their residence without permission and are allowed to go only to locations authorized in advance. They must also attend classes held at the sheriff’s Day Reporting Center that are designed to reduce recidivism.

Sheriff’s deputies conduct unannounced home visits to ensure compliance. The report says the program costs the county about $20 per day, as opposed to the $90 a day it costs to keep a prisoner in the county jail.

Some 261 offenders have been placed in the program, and so far 88 have successfully completed their sentences and been excused, while 66 were returned to jail for violations. Of those, 13 had removed their ankle bracelets and left home without notice. All were captured and sent to jail on escape charges and if convicted face state prison.

The Sheriff’s Office enlisted a number of Chico State professors and criminal-justice interns to help evaluate the program, the results of which were released in an initial report last month.

“I am encouraged by the initial finding in this report,” said Sheriff Jerry Smith. “It demonstrates that our approach is valid and gives us recommendations, which we will use to improve the program.”

Steve Bordin, the county’s chief probation officer, told the supervisors the goal was to keep the number of those under supervision to about 40.

“If we get much above that you start becoming more reactive than proactive,” he said. “It’s very important that we be proactive with this population. Otherwise they get ahead of us.”

He said deputies are on a daily basis working day and night shifts in which they perform unscheduled contacts.

“We are finding that folks are in the high 90 percent compliance rate,” Bordin told the supervisors. “We will rarely bring in more on a 50-contact day than three people. So the majority of our folks are following the rules that we are setting for them and we are being extremely successful in the community.”

He said less than 24 percent of those in the program have committed violations, and of those only six cases, or less than 2 percent, have ended unsuccessfully over the year.

“So far we’ve done extraordinarily well, and we’ve had tremendous support from all of out partners,” he said.

Those partners include the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the public defenders and the courts.

“Right now we are looking at about 76 percent of our population who have had no interaction with the court whatsoever, so we are feeling very strongly that our program and probation are quite good,” Bordin said. “We are researching new options, and the whole goal is to make our community safer and to make this an efficient process.”

Supervisor Bill Connelly asked how many of those in the program have become gainfully employed.

Bordin said he didn’t have the number with him but added employment “is one of the most key components of keeping them out of jail and making them feel good about themselves.”

Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi asked how a felon gets a job.

“It is a difficult hurdle to overcome, and it requires some understanding on the part of the employer,” Bordin said. “And then the individual has to prove over time that they are reliable. It is a very difficult hurdle.”

Undersheriff Kory Honea told the supervisors that the Sheriff’s Office is working with the county’s Alliance for Workforce Development program. “We are trying to get those folks the skills and then ultimately find some kind of employment with somebody who is willing to employ them,” he said.

There are currently nine state parolees in the county going through the program, which is the only one in the state helping to find jobs for those in the ACS.