How prison realignment has led to life-changing programs in Butte County
When the state Legislature passed the prison-realignment law, Assembly Bill 109, in 2011, ordering those convicted of low-level crimes to be sentenced to county jails rather than state prisons, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office took heed. The 614-bed jail was going to be greatly impacted.
Sheriff Jerry Smith, Undersheriff Kory Honea and Capt. Andy Duch had to get creative to handle the increase.
“We knew this was coming,” said Smith in a recent interview with Honea and Duch at the newly built Day Reporting Center in the old Juvenile Hall building in Oroville. “Kory and I had the jail staff with us and I said, ‘We need to be prepared for this.’ I asked Kory to assemble a crew and come up with some alternative solutions to custody.”
In early 2012, BCSO formed the Alternative Custody Supervision (ACS) program, which allows as many as 200 convicts to serve their sentences at home, wearing an ankle monitor and checking in daily at the reporting center. The now 2-year-old program has been a great success in the eyes of the three lawmen, who say the relationship between jailer and the jailed has changed tremendously since the old days of “book ’em, lock ’em up and throw away the key.”
“Frankly, that was a big move for me personally, because I never thought outside the traditional boundaries of where we are at in the incarceration business,” Smith said. “And that’s because I never had to.”
At the Day Reporting Center, participants are offered classes ranging from College Readiness to Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT). The goal is to give them the tools they need to stay out of jail and to change their lives for the better. There is a social ambiance in the center’s cafeteria, where bologna or peanut-butter sandwiches are served between classes and inmates and deputies joke and laugh, make small talk and recognize their common humanity.
Smith said it was Honea’s idea to renovate the section of Juvenile Hall that was scheduled for demolition. The remodel was done with inmate labor and state funding from AB 109.
“They changed my mind about where we ought to be as far as incarcerating people or not incarcerating people,” he said.
Honea called the project “a collaborative effort.”
“We sat down and started finding ways to solve the problem, which is ultimately how we got to this point,” Honea said. “As the sheriff noted, relatively little taxpayer money went into this. I think, all told, we’ve spent about $250,000 renovating the Day Reporting Center to get it to where it’s at now, and if you know anything about government projects, $250,000 is not a lot of money.”
Duch said the project came in under budget and ahead of schedule.
“The demolition, repainting and rehab was all done by inmates,” he said. “We paid a contractor to do the floors, but the inmates jackhammered out the old cement beds in juvenile hall.”
One of those inmates, said Honea, had spent time in the facility as a youth.
“And now he’s back turning it into a Day Reporting Center, and our thought on that was, well, this guy began his criminal career or life of crime by going into that facility, maybe we can help him end his life of crime with this kind of complete turnaround.”
On a recent Monday, inmate Brian Storey, 46, was in the Day Reporting Center cafeteria, which he had just cleaned up as part of his debt to society. The cafeteria offers a couple of vending machines, a refrigerator and a bookshelf holding paperbacks. Storey was wearing a Green Bay Packers stocking cap, the day after the Packers had lost to the 49ers in an NFL playoff game.
Storey said his troubles began in August, when he was arrested on a domestic-violence-related charge of corporal injury. He spent two months in jail and then was offered to join the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program (SWAP), through which he would serve 80 days of service. But because he has a drywall business that calls for him to go to work across the county, Storey believed SWAP was taking too long to complete his term. Working in the field with SWAP prevented him from doing drywall, should a call come in for his service. Instead, he now checks in daily at the center, where he can take calls for his business.
“I’ve got 19 days left total of the program,” he said. “They keep me here every day. I come here and then go home. I’ve got a teenage kid at home, so if I’m not there, things go to hell quickly.”
Storey said he realizes his violation on New Year’s Day could have led to his dismissal from the program.
“They are being firm but fair,” he said. “I’m not saying I like it, because I’d rather be working. I’d rather be free. I’ve been in this program for a couple months, but it’s working very well for a self-employed guy. Well, it was until I broke the rules. Before, I could get a phone call for work saying I need to run to Gridley or to Biggs or to Chico, and I could pick up the phone and call sheriff monitors and tell them I had to go here, here and here.”
Now, Storey goes to the center at 8 a.m. and stays until 4 p.m.
On this day, he also cleaned a classroom and the ACS office, all the while answering his work phone.
“I can still run my business from here because I have my employees,” he said. “I dealt with the teenage problems, read some books, cleaned up this room and looked at the clock.”
He said his son can cause trouble, then stopped, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I was 16 once.”
“Nobody wants to be in jail,” he said. “It’s a good program. The rules are not that hard to follow. Don’t drink, don’t go home and use drugs. Up until I screwed up, it’s been a great program for me. It beats being in jail, and they really work with me. Hey, but I screwed up. And they let me know it. Nobody jumps your ass for being a bonehead, but I was a bonehead.”
At that point, Duch walked up to Storey and introduced himself.
“This is one of the things I like about ACS,” Duch said in reference to Storey. “A guy can literally be an inmate. He’s actually in jail right now, but he’s making a living, paying taxes and supporting employees. You can’t do that if you’re locked up in jail. Plus, he would cost taxpayers $92 a day to be locked up over there in the jail. He costs taxpayers $22 a day to stay outside.”
Tilly Hutchinson is a 33-year-old single mother of two from Chico who’s been in the ACS program for the past six months. She is sentenced to remain in the program until Oct. 29, 2015.
“What brought me here was my drug use,” she said while sitting in the Day Reporting Center just after attending a Moral Reconation Therapy class. “I’d been using off and on for the past 16 years. I’ve been in and out of prison a couple of times.”
Hutchinson has a 15-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son.
“I had my son when I was 14 and my daughter when I was 17. My drug use, unfortunately, has been a part of their lives. I got clean enough to get them back. For a long time, I considered myself a functioning addict. I had the car, the house, the kids, but then my drug use would take over.”
Hutchinson said her son’s father was murdered when her son was 2 years old, and her daughter’s father left town when she was 3 years old. She is from Chico and graduated from Fair View High School. She attended Butte College for a year, then started smoking marijuana, which, she said, led to the use of methamphetamine and liquor.
Hutchinson said she got into trouble for identity theft using checks and credit cards.
“After I’d lose my job, that is how I would support myself,” she said. “[Through] that and selling drugs I was always running with the people who were making the drugs, so there was no cost for me. My life just went downhill.”
She is now in a residential Christian drug-treatment program in Oroville called The Father’s House.
“Between ACS and The Father’s House, I can see a complete transformation,” Hutchinson said.
She said the Moral Reconation Therapy class has helped her as well.
“It goes all the way back to when we were babies—how we learned to manipulate our parents by crying,” she said. “That is something I never thought of: going back to childhood memories to understand why we’ve done what we’ve done. If not for the leaders of the [treatment] program and the leaders here, I don’t think I would have made it. Half the time, I don’t even think about this thing on my ankle. I’m doing it for the right reasons and really wanting change.”
Hutchinson said she is confident that she will make it through the next nearly two years of the ACS program.
“I’ve not had any trouble and have no desire to get into trouble,” she said. “We have up to three weeks to do each step for each class. I’m on step 12 in the MRT book.”
Hutchinson said she had just graduated from a class called Something for Nothing, which looks at why people steal.
“I’m still in that class to give support to others,” she said. “What they offer with ACS you’re not going to find anywhere else. To me, it’s very beneficial and offers a lot of good lessons that I would never be able to learn on my own.”
Her relationship with her children is recovering as well, Hutchinson said.
“They see the change. For a long time they didn’t trust me, they didn’t want to be around me. They thought that I would just mess up and get in trouble again and end up back in jail or prison. They didn’t think that I was ever going to change. By doing this, and not getting into trouble, and having them come to church with me every Sunday, they are actually trusting me. When they have issues, they call me and say, ‘Hey, Mom, what should I do?’
“The first time that happened, I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, my kid’s asking me what to do.’ I’ve got to be that positive role model for my kids now, because they are actually looking to me instead of looking away from me.”
Hutchinson spoke well of the officers involved in the program, particularly Deputy Vong Vang, who is assigned to check on her.
“He is amazing,” she said. “He is always there for me. I work at The Restored Boutique in Oroville and he comes down there to check on me to see how things are going. He’ll stop by to chat or just to say ‘hi.’ If I need something, I can text him and he’ll respond.
“He told me, ‘I don’t just look at you as a criminal or inmate out here, because I see what you are capable of. I see what you are doing.’ Inside [the jail], they just see us behind walls and they don’t know us. They see our rap sheet and know why we are there, but they don’t know us personally. Being out here, they get to know us.”
Darryl Johnson, 57, of Chico, has a long history of criminal activity, mostly related to burglary. He started the ACS program last June and now has completed two classes—Something for Nothing and Moral Reconation Therapy.
“It’s really helped me a lot because I learned about myself through the MRT book,” he said. “It teaches me how to go back to the people I stole from and how to make amends. I feel 100 percent better about myself.”
Johnson said he became quite proficient at shoplifting merchandise from stores and then returning for a cash refund.
“If you were the store manager, I’d say, “Hey, your kids are going to my kids’ school. I’d just work them and they’d trust me. I’d use a phony name. I’d approach the clerk with the merchandise I’d lifted and the clerk would call the manager and he’s, ‘Oh, that’s so-and-so; go ahead and take care of him.’”
“I’d get $400 back on merchandise I’d stolen, then buy $60 worth of stuff and then go fill my car up [with gas]. I had a brand-new Cadillac, because I was making a lot of money. I’d go fill my car up, eat a nice steak dinner, then go back with $60 worth of stuff, get that money back and go to the next store. It was a routine thing, and I was very good at it. But I am ashamed of what I’ve done.”
Johnson’s world crashed in 2007, when his girlfriend was murdered.
“I lost my girl. That was the hardest part. It changed my whole outlook when she got murdered. She was Miss Oroville and had a good family; we lived together for about six years, a lot of the time in my Cadillac. We’d sleep in it.
“You pull up in front of a store with a brand-new Cadillac, you don’t have any problems. I would dress nice and I could play that act, but I’ll never do that again. Sometimes I had to sock some people up in the store to get away; I hit one guy with a flashlight and I could have killed him. I’m ashamed of that. I’m going back to apologize to that guy.”
Johnson said he first went to prison in 1979 and that he was in and out of five prisons up until 2007.
His latest trouble happened in Nevada County.
“I went into a Shell station in Penn Valley and bought $20 worth of gas and $10 worth of Taco Bell food,” he said. “I got deathly sick off that food, so I went into the store at the Shell station and stole a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. They found it on the camera and I got 120 days. I did 90 of them and was released because a man committed suicide in front of me. He jumped off the third tier, so they released me early.”
But Johnson was on probation in Butte County, and as such, had to answer to the courts here.
“The probation put me back in court, and I got sentenced to five years for violation of probation,” he said. “Five years for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. The judge was James Reilly. He told me, ‘Johnson, you are at the last end of your terms. You’ve done a lot of burglaries in the past and you went to prison. This time, you’ve got a lot stronger term for a small amount.’
“It was the Pepto-Bismol, and that sentence really woke me up.”
The optimism about the program is contagious within the Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Duch said, citing a 20-year jailer named Lt. Jeff Hayes. “His idea of crime prevention was ‘lock ’em up,’ just like mine,” Duch said. “But he’s changed his mind because this works. In fact, it works so well that to deny it as an alternative is foolish.”
Still, he said, the program requires the inmates’ active participation.
“[The inmates] have to want to turn their lives around and we try to give them the tools necessary to do that,” Duch said. “For those who embrace it, we see a lot of really good success. It’s their program to fail.
“There is not a single [sheriff’s] officer there looking to trip people up. That is the old parole mentality of ‘I’m going to catch you. I’m going to catch you doing it wrong. I’m going to check on you.’ That is the opposite of how we do it. We say, ‘Look, we want you to succeed. We want you to make it. We want you to become a taxpayer, get a job, get your GED, because people like you don’t come to jail.”