Investing in Community Corrections to Improve Offender Outcomes
In 2011, California underwent a monumental change in criminal justice policies as the result of the enactment of Assembly Bill 109 and AB 117, a companion bill, which enacted the Public Safety Realignment Act. Realignment was borne through the confluence of a number state and local pressures including the need to meet the US Supreme Court’s order to reduce the number of inmates housed in state prison to 137.5 percent of design capacity. Realignment is based on the tenet, if appropriately and adequately funded, that local criminal justice entities can achieve better outcomes through targeted programs, evidence based practices, and local decision making and flexibly.
To respond to this significant change, localities have created collaborative decision making bodies known as the Community Corrections Partnerships (CCPs), chaired by the county probation chief. Through this forum, every community has the flexibility to develop their Realignment plan and collect their data in a manner that addresses local priorities and needs. The expansion of local control and resources provides counties with an opportunity to improve offender outcomes.
Under Realignment, county probation departments now have the responsibility to manage two populations of offenders who had formerly been the responsibility of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). These populations include some offenders that previously would have been placed on parole and non-serious, non-violent sentenced offenders that would have been sent to prison now serve their time locally. Supervision by Probation of offenders after their prison sentence is referred to as the post release community supervision (PRCS). Those offenders that serve their sentence locally may also spend some of their sentenced time under Probation supervision on mandatory supervision (MS). Probation officers use validated assessment tools to hold offenders accountable and connect offenders to community services, programs and treatment in order to provide a greater chance of success.
Key to improving offender outcomes under Realignment is the use of targeted interventions and evidence-based practices to effectively manage risk and reduce recidivism. This includes validated risk assessment tools, basing service referrals on the highest priority needs of the offenders, and increasing coordination among law enforcement entities and combining probation supervision with treatment.
As part of a series of issue briefs to highlight probation related data and programs, the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) released the issue brief “Graduated Sanctions: Strategies for Responding to Violations of Probation Supervision,” funded by The James Irvine Foundation. The issue brief highlights the good work county probation departments are currently engaged in to manage offender behavior change, and enforce and enhance public safety, through the use of evidence based practices to “ensure offender compliance” and the promising practices of utilizing graduated sanctions to counter non-compliant behavior. The brief looks at the use of incarceration for technical violations of probation balanced against other structured methods of sanctions and rewards, including the use of “risk-assessment tools and structured decision making matrices” (reward and sanction tools based on extensive research) to respond to the level of violation proportionately and through graduated sanctions, as well as properly incentivize continued positive behavior change. The use of proportional, swift, and certain responses present “the best opportunity for changing behavior, reducing recidivism, and securing community safety.” While it is too soon to determine the exact lasting effects of these strategies in comparison to the pre-realignment landscape, all signs are pointing to promising long term effects.
While challenges still undoubtedly exist on the implementation of Realignment, there has been notable progress and positive outcomes as a result of the focus on targeted supervision and intervention. Local criminal justice partners continue to work closely in an effort to achieve better outcomes for offenders and California public safety.
Interested in more in depth information pertaining to Realignment? You can find additional resources and informational issue briefs from CPOC here.
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