Funding shortfalls plaguing realignment program

RIVERSIDE – Riverside County agencies are carrying heavier burdens stemming from state public safety realignment enacted six years ago, partly because funds provided by the state to cover increased costs borne by the county are shrinking annually, Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake said to the board of supervisors, Nov. 1.

“I have cautiously warned over the last several years that decisions on how to fund realignment would become more difficult,” Hake said during a hearing on the 42-page Public Safety Realignment & Post-Release Community Supervision Implementation Report for the last fiscal year.

“As we have ramped up AB 109, the costs continue to exceed what the state is allocating,” he said.

The county’s most recent disbursal from the state totaled $68.67 million – an amount Hake complained was “significantly less than in years past.”

He said the county had requested $89 million in appropriations from accounts established under Assembly Bill 109. Thanks to “one-time” funding received elsewhere and rollover sums from sources not exhausted in fiscal year 2016-17, officials were able to largely close the gap, but a $3 million shortfall remains on the books, Hake said.

“Every year, there are so many moving parts, you don’t know what you have until the very end,” Supervisor Marion Ashley said. “There’s a little bit less money each time, and our costs are not going down.”

The county’s Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee, comprised of Hake, District Attorney Mike Hestrin, Sheriff Stan Sniff and other parties, has approved a distribution formula that reserves $28 million for sheriff’s operations, $18 million for the probation department and $27 million for the Department of Public Health. Smaller sums will be disbursed to area police agencies and the office of the public defender.

The report noted that Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, which took effect Oct. 1, 2011, continues to have the most substantial impact on sheriff’s operations, mainly from increased demand for scarce correctional space in the county’s five detention facilities, as well as greater need for mental health services for detainees.

“The impacts of AB 109 for the sheriff’s department continue to include increased jail overcrowding, funding challenges and inmate program expansion,” according to the report. “The county jails have seen a drastic increase in the inmate population as a direct result of AB 109.”

During 2016-2017, 17 percent of all inmate beds were occupied by AB 109 offenders, some of whom were serving yearslong sentences.

The law, touted by Gov. Jerry Brown as a means to reduce state prison overcrowding, shifted longtime state responsibilities onto counties, including jailing low-level offenders and parole violators who fall into the so-called “3N” category – nonviolent, non-serious and non-sexually-oriented in their criminal conduct.

“With the increase of AB 109 realignment inmates, the sheriff’s department has seen a continued increase of inmates requiring treatment for a serious mental illness,” the report said. “The corrections division currently has 504 beds dedicated for seriously mentally ill inmates. This is a 358 percent increase since the implementation of AB 109. Those beds are consistently at maximum capacity.”

The agency has been under a consent decree for two years guaranteeing the delivery of specific services to cognitively and behaviorally disturbed detainees under the terms of a federal lawsuit settled with a Bay Area-
based prisoner rights’ law group.

Over the last six years, sheriff’s officials have released tens of thousands of inmates before they completed their sentences or had their cases adjudicated due to realignment-related overcrowding. A federal court decree requires the sheriff to have a bed for every inmate or to free detainees to make room for incoming ones.

AB 109 enabled the state to stop monitoring convicted felons after their release from prison, transferring that responsibility to counties under so- called “post-release community supervision.” The law also created alternatives to jail, including “mandatory supervision,” a more restrictive form of probation managed by counties’ probation departments.

Since AB 109 went into effect, probation agents have had to monitor more than 11,000 post-release felons, according to the report.

Officials further pointed out that the number of individuals on mandatory supervision increased from about 900 at the end of fiscal year 2015-2016 to 1,070 individuals at the end of 2016-2017 – a 19 percent jump.

The report said that “day reporting centers,” operated by multiple county agencies offering societal integration programs, had netted some positive outcomes in the last fiscal year, with 276 of the 1,263 offenders served obtaining full-time employment and a dozen others entering college or vocational training programs.

According to data, the average recidivism rate for post-release felons over the last three years was 34 percent, and 51 percent for those placed on mandatory supervision. The majority of recidivists committed property and drug- related crimes, figures showed.

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