Probation reports on realignment; concerns raised for public safety

Posted on December 19, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Written by Elizabeth Larson
Thursday, 15 December 2011
LAKEPORT, Calif. – County supervisors this week received an update on the state’s correctional realignment and what it means for Lake County, with the county’s acting chief probation officer warning of serious health and safety implications for community residents. 

On Tuesday, acting Chief Probation Officer Steve Buchholz gave a report to the Board of Supervisors on realignment, which includes supervising new probationers and housing in the county jail prisoners who formerly would have served their time in state prison.


The state’s correctional realignment, which went into effect Oct. 1, is meant to reduce the state’s prison overcrowding, as well as to save the cash-strapped state money.


Buchholz was accompanied by staff from BI Incorporated, the company hired by the county to help monitor the new probationers and run a day reporting center at 1375 Hoyt Ave. in Lakeport.


That center will require offenders to comply with ongoing reporting, intensive treatment and training, testing for drug and alcohol use, and classes to change criminal thinking, according to a report from the company.


So far, 23 people have been released under Lake County Probation’s supervision, said Buchholz.


The state sent Buchholz’s office 51 information packets on probationers – including the 23 already released – with his staff completing assessments on 40 of those individuals, he said.


Buchholz shared his concern with the board that offenders being released were incorrectly categorized by the state as “nonviolent.”


In fact, 90 percent of those slated for release into the community are “high risk” offenders, Buchholz said. Only one is low risk, and three are moderate risk.


One of those slated for release has two contagious diseases and a history of violence against law enforcement. Buchholz said that individual was of such concern that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation actually called Lake County Probation to warn them about him.


Buchholz said state officials told his staff, “When this guy gets off the bus he’s going to be looking for victims.”


That subject is now sitting in another county’s jail after an existing warrant on him was found. However, Buchholz said the man could still be dropped off in Lake County.


Another individual brought to the county under realignment came from a secure housing unit at the state prison level. Within 48 hours of arriving in the county, he was using drugs and causing problems. Buchholz said he’s since been moved into residential treatment.


These so-called “nonviolent offenders,” said Buchholz, “are in fact, for the most part, a serious risk to our community.”


In addition to those probationers now under monitoring, Buchholz said here are 14 people who have been sentenced to county jail who formerly would have gone to state prison.


All 14 have been sentenced to straight jail time – not a split sentence where part is spent on supervision, he said. A 15th case currently is in court where the judge and attorneys have agreed it will be a split sentence, with four years in county jail and four years of supervision.


Regarding parolees who violated their release terms, Buchholz said 54 such individuals have been booked into the Lake County Jail since Oct. 1.


Formerly, they would have been sent back to state prison for a time, but now they will serve their sentence for parole violation in the county jail, he said.


Among the new responsibilities being handled by Lake County Probation, Buchholz said his staff now is expected to help with transporting prisoners from the prison system, a task that he said can be very time consuming.


He said some of those coming from prison have severe mental and physical health issues, and will impact the county’s mental health and public health resources.


Buchholz said eight of the 23 individuals released into the county so far are transient and homeless.


“That’s another issue that we’re fighting,” he said.


Concerns about needs exceeding resources


He said 18 of those released have been in enrolled in BI Incorporated’s day reporting center, which has a total of 50 slots.


Buchholz said he is very concerned about those numbers. He predicted that the day reporting center’s 50 slots, as well as the 50 slots in the Jail Employment Education Program that BI Inc. will oversee at the Lake County Jail, could quickly fill up and be exceeded by the need resulting from the realignment.


“Virtually every day something new comes up,” he said of the time-consuming experience in adjusting to realignment. “This is a learning experience for everyone, even those at the state level.”


BI Incorporated officials told the board they had hired six of eight new staff members locally, would begin seeing clients on Thursday and planned to hire two additional staffers for a satellite office to be opened in Clearlake in January.


They reported seeing a high number of individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues, and in response to a large number of American Indian clients have hired Pomo tribal member Thomas Brown to work with them.


Buchholz predicted the county would have 71 parolees under its supervision by the end of the fiscal year, which occurs June 30. Another 80 to 90 individuals who would have gone to prison likely will end up serving their time in the Lake County Jail.


“As time goes on it’s the proverbial snowball,” he said.


Supervisor Anthony Farrington asked why BI Incorporated’s facilities were located in Lakeport and not in Clearlake. Buchholz said they couldn’t find a suitable place in Clearlake, and saved money by having them locate in a county building in Lakeport.


Farrington said he guessed their caseload would be higher in the Northshore and Clearlake areas. Buchholz replied that 57 percent of the caseload of those under supervision live in the area from Middletown to Clearlake Oaks, with the rest of the county home to the other 43 percent.


He also reported that two people who were to be released in the county did not report to Lake County Probation as required. Buchholz said they were “in the wind.”


Supervisor Rob Brown pointed to a recent case where a parolee in another county was released as part of the realignment, only to kill someone shortly afterward.


Buchholz acknowledged that there are some extremely dangerous and violent people being released. He said he doesn’t expect some of those people to respond to the local programs in place to deal with them, but he said some will make positive changes.


Supervisor Denise Rushing asked BI Incorporated about measures that work, and they offered a brief overview of using evidence-based risk needs assessments to do targeted interventions.


Brown was unconvinced. “I don’t want to belabor this, because I think we all know what a disaster this is.”


He said convicts have chosen to be where they are. “We’re wasting resources on something that will be a miserable failure at the end of the day,” he said.


Supervisor Jeff Smith said he appreciated what Lake County Probation was trying to do, and he hopes it works.


Buchholz said he thinks there will be some successes as well as failures, adding that the money the state has allocated to the county for realignment – which he said in a previous interview with Lake County News was about $840,000 – won’t be even close to what is needed.


Brown condemned the realignment, which he predicted the public will tire of quickly.


“The public is much less safe as a result of it,” he said.

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