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Counties: Prison shift going OK

Convicts in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties handed off to the counties under the state’s prison realignment are filling jail beds but offending in relatively low numbers.

Tuolumne County last week released data collected through January on the participants in local AB 109 programs and Calaveras County previously released data for the program’s first year.  

Developed in response to a federal court ruling on the state’s prison overcrowding, AB 109 transferred the responsibility for many non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual offenders from the state to local justice systems.

Both counties put a number of programs in place to deal with the individuals considered non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious offenders including counseling, work release, supervision, addiction treatment and in some cases jail time.

“I think there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic with the way things are going right now,” Dan Hawks, the adult division manager for Tuolumne County Probation, said last week.

In 2012 Tuolumne County saw 96 people come through the programs, according to a memo from the Probation Department with 45 to 50 at any given time. Between Oct. 11 and Jan. 31, the county saw 34 arrests among 10 clients and only 18 new convictions among five clients.

So far, six people have successfully completed programs tailored to their sentences, with the maximum of three years that can be spent in a program. And since the Tuolumne County programs started, attendance has been over 90 percent.

Hawks described the recidivism rate, meaning the number of participants who are convicted of a new crime, as low. Though he also said recidivism is usually tracked over three years.

“The majority of those new convictions have been misdemeanor convictions,” he said.

Teri Hall, chief probation officer in Calaveras County, could not be reached by Friday afternoon. The most recent data available on the Calaveras AB 109 programs runs through the end of November, and shows a 13 percent recidivism rate with four arrests among the 31 offenders in the programs.

A report released in 2010 by the California Department of Corrections placed the statewide recidivism rate at 67.5 percent. 

Even with the low numbers, Hawks said there are challenges to tackle, including mental health services for people after they leave the program. This is especially true for the handful of re-offenders, whose mental health issues make finding work and placement more challenging.

And the county jail has already felt the impact from AB 109, Hawks said.

Currently, about 20 percent of the population at the already full jail are offenders that previously would be in the prison system. He said that number will likely reach one third.

“It’s only going to increase over time,” he said. “It may be several years before we really realize the impact of realignment.” 

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