Archive for August, 2012

California jail overhaul assessed after 6 months

Posted on August 26, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Crime Victims, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment, The Law |

By Kurtis Alexander
Fresno Bee
Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The overhaul of California’s criminal justice system last year was billed as a way to get more felons into treatment and out of the vicious cycle of crime, prison and more crime.

So far, this has hardly been the case.

Most offenders who qualify for rehab services instead of incarceration under the state’s new realignment policy are still being sentenced to time behind bars, reports show. Only a fraction are ordered to programs that include mandatory drug counseling or job training.

Additionally, the majority of these offenders, because of the way the new policy works, don’t get supervision after their release from custody. This supervision was common before the realignment began.

These shortfalls are adding to concern that the restructured criminal justice system, nearly a year after its October start, may not live up to promises of rehabilitating criminals.

“Inmates are going to be coming out of custody unprepared, and they’re going to be more likely to reoffend,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. “This defeats the whole purpose of realignment.”

The realignment shifts responsibility for most nonviolent felons from the state to counties. (Violent offenders still go to state prison.) Gov. Jerry Brown saw it as a way to relieve the state’s overcrowded prison system and, on this front, it’s been a success. The prison population has shrunk by more than 15 percent.

Counties, it was expected, would do a better job of managing low-level criminals than the state, by offering treatment services tailored to local needs.

During the first six months of realignment, about 72 percent of the nearly 15,000 statewide offenders newly sentenced to counties instead of the state were given straight jail time, according to a recent report by the Chief Probation Officers of California.

That happens despite the fact that realignment allows judges to sentence low-level felons to terms in local probation programs. County probation departments are where the treatment services are run.

“I think judges are still stuck in the old mind-set where they say, ‘Hey, this guy deserves a harsher sentence,’ ” said Allen Hopper, who has studied the realignment and works as criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

Six percent of the state’s low-level offenders were sentenced to probation programs during the first six months of realignment, while 21 percent were sentenced to a combination of jail and probation, according to the recent report.

In addition, offenders serving their entire terms in county jails also don’t get supervision upon release. Had those inmates gone to state prison, as they would have before the realignment, many would have been monitored and assisted through state parole offices. But parole is no longer an option for these offenders.

“We can’t change that person’s behavior who is walking out of jail without having some sort of jurisdiction putting together plans to help them,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California.

Pank and her organization are encouraging judges to sentence more low-level offenders to probation. That way, she said, they’re likely to get treatment as well as follow-up supervision once they’re on their own.

Many judges say it’s not that simple. Under the new policy, when a judge sentences an offender to a probation program, it eats up part of the total sentence, meaning less jail time. And that’s not necessarily what is warranted, they say.

“This is just part of the formula,” said Fresno Superior Court Judge Jon Conklin. “If a judge wants to give that person some supervision or services, they have to reduce the amount of custodial time that they would give.

“This is not our decision,” he added. “This is the Legislature reacting.”

The problem is especially acute in the San Joaquin Valley, where counties are handling more felons than had been expected under the prison realignment, according to the probation officers group.

The 12 counties between Kern County and San Joaquin County have been managing 8 percent more probationers, on average, than what the state projected they would under the realignment, the group says. Fresno County, for example, is supervising more than 1,100 additional offenders in its Probation Department, say county officials. The state had estimated less than 700 at this point.

By contrast, counties in the Bay Area and the Sacramento area have averaged 5 percent fewer offenders than what the state projected, according to the report.

In Fresno County, nearly 30 percent of offenders were sentenced to a probation program or a combination of probation and jail – instead of straight jail time – according to the recent report. That’s slightly above the state average of nearly 28 percent. But the percentages vary significantly from county to county, with some counties, such as Contra Costa, above 80 percent and others, such as Kern, closer to 10 percent.

Conklin called Fresno County’s numbers a good start. He said he expects the percentage of offenders going into probation to increase, not just because judges will see more benefit in probation programs but because the higher cost of locking people up may become too burdensome.

State officials overseeing the realignment said they are not in a position to comment on how judges are doing with the sentencing. They said it is a matter for each county to work out.

But California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said that the new policy encourages counties to make use of alternatives to jail.

In Fresno County, the Probation Department, like other probation programs across the state, has begun to beef up its alternative services, from drug rehab to vocational assistance to daily check-in centers.

“We would like to get a shot at these offenders and get them into a program,” said Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner. “We feel strongly that a period of intervention, some sort of program, is meaningful.”

Penner noted that the policy of realignment is not even a year old, and she’s optimistic that its effectiveness will improve with time.

“It’s still pretty early,” she said. “As programs strengthen and more alternatives are out there, I expect judges are going to have a higher comfort level and we’ll see more people in programs.”

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State officials: Clerical error led to accused killer being released from parole

Posted on August 2, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Crime Victims, Parole, Politics, Prisons |

Posted:   07/02/2012 06:12:01 PM PDT

 

Charles Edwards, accused of killing Shannon Collins, appears in court in May. The state Department of Corrections has acknowledged that a clerical error led to Edwards release from parole supervision. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel file )

SANTA CRUZ – The state’s top corrections official recently informed local prosecutors and a slain woman’s family that a clerical error by his agency prematurely ended parole supervision of a man accused in the killing.

Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee said Monday that Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matt Cate traveled to Santa Cruz about two weeks ago to notify him, as well as members of the Santa Cruz Police Department and Shannon Collins’ family, about the mistake.

“It’s a crushing, unspeakable tragedy for Shannon’s family and for our community,” Lee said. “It’s hard to imagine a typo costing someone their life.”

Charles Anthony Edwards III, 43, is accused of stabbing Collins to

Shannon Collins

death May 7 as the 38-year-old downtown store owner walked on Broadway to a hair appointment. The two didn’t know each other and the attack is believed to have been random, according to prosecutors.Edwards, who has a lengthy criminal rap sheet that began at age 13, was discharged from state parole supervision in December. While participating in a state mental health program as part of parole, he was put on the street after the state failed to conduct a required review.

“He basically said they were ultimately responsible,” Lee said of Cate.

Violet Smith of Boulder Creek, a good friend of Collins for years, said her grief was deepened by learning Edwards should not have been out.

“That is just horrible,” Smith said. “The complete randomness of everything that had to happen is completely unbelievable. I’m grieving, still just trying to figure it out. But I know that she would never want anyone to be angry. That just wasn’t in her being.”

HOW IT HAPPENED

The error, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, happened when a corrections employee set the wrong date for a mandatory hearing.

“If the state misses (an individual’s) review period for any reason, we lose the ability by law to retain that person on parole,” said Terri McDonald, undersecretary of the Department of Corrections. “There are very strict guidelines.”

McDonald said the agency has a program built in to its computer system that alerts officials to the proper time for a parolee’s one year-review period.

Edwards was placed on parole in November 2010 after being handed down an 8-year prison sentence in Los Angeles County for resisting an officer with threats or violence. As such, his review date would have been in November 2011.

However, for reasons McDonald said are still under investigation, someone entered the wrong date into the computer system, listing Edwards’ review period as April 2012.

“In January, when we went into the system to review his case, we realized the error and we realized he had to be discharged,” McDonald said.

Parole officials researched possibilities for legally maintaining his parole, but found none, McDonald said. Edwards, who was at Atascadero State Hospital, was therefore removed in January.

The Times reported that Edwards’ brother, a federal employee who asked not be named for fear of being stigmatized at work, said Edwards had spent two brief stints in a state-run outpatient program before returning to the hospital at his own request.

“He was scared,” the brother said. “He said he wasn’t ready.”

At some point after being released, Edwards, a San Francisco native, showed up in Santa Cruz, where he spent a few nights at the Homeless Services Center before the killing. Employees there said he had been cooperative and docile, and expressed an interest in connecting with a Christian community.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

McDonald said such errors by the state corrections system are rare, “but even a rare event is something we’d sought a legislative change for.”

That change, McDonald said, is coming in the form of a new bill, passed last week by the Legislature. Among other provisions, the bill eliminates the automatic discharge in favor of individuals being retained on parole unless their parole agent acted to discharge them.

The change won’t affect those currently on parole, though it will apply to those sentenced after its passage, McDonald said.

“No matter how well-trained and hard-working our employees are, an individual can make an error,” she said.

Lee acknowledged the corrections department’s willingness to take responsibility, but said “nothing anyone can ever say can ever lessen the tremendous pain.”

Collins’ husband, Ken Vinson, declined to comment about the error Monday.

“I am still deeply grieving the loss of Shannon, and that’s all I’m really thinking about these days,” he said in an email to the Sentinel.

Edwards remains in County Jail, where he is being housed in a special unit for persons with mental health issues. He’s pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and related allegations and is due back in court Aug. 13 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.

His attorney, public defender Anthony Robinson, was not available for comment Monday.

Collins’ death occurred even as county and city leaders were considering increasing resources for a mental health outreach program targeting downtown. Maintaining Ongoing Stability through Treatment, or “MOST” program, which pairs outreach workers with police to perform crisis intervention and case management for clients, will see its staffing nearly doubled starting this month.

County Supervisor Neal Coonerty sought to expand the program after the Legislature last year passed Assembly Bill 109, which redirects many nonviolent offenders away from the overburdened prison system and in to county jails or diversion programs.

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