Jury says AB 109 response lacking

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat March 18, 2013 08:01 am

In-fighting among law enforcement “partners” and failure to abide by rules of their own making led to a delayed and disjointed response from Calaveras County to the state’s Assembly Bill 109 criminal justice realignment, according to an interim Grand Jury report released last week.

The AB 109 reforms — signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April 2011 after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a reduction in California prison overcrowding — include placing those who commit crimes deemed non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious under supervision of county probation offices rather than state parole agents. It also required counties to create “community corrections partnerships,” a panel of local law enforcement leaders tasked with devising a plan that includes “evidence-based practices” proven to reduce recidivism among this population.

The Grand Jury found that Calaveras County sputtered out of the gate in setting up CCP meetings with little structure or record-keeping.

“Much time was lost rehashing issues from previous meetings and arguing over funding, philosophical differences, or points of view,” the report stated. “Some meetings saw a deterioration of respectful behavior to the level of open hostility.”

 A sharp division developed, particularly between Sheriff Gary Kuntz, District Attorney Barbara Yook and Angels Camp Police Chief Todd Fordahl on one side and Chief Probation Officer Teri Hall, appointed by the county Board of Supervisors as CCP chairwoman.

 A facilitator, paid $25,000, helped organize the meeting but left, and the chaos returned, jurors found.

 “On April 13, 2012 the Board of Supervisors was presented with and passed the Calaveras County 2011/2012 Public Safety Realignment, Preliminary Plan,” the report stated. “Calaveras County was one of the last counties in California to do so.”

 Budget issues further escalated the hostility of the meetings, jurors reported. The centerpiece Day Reporting Center — where supervised offenders will report for drug abuse treatment, education and other services — is not expected to open until next month. In neighboring Tuolumne County, a similar center has been open for more than a year.

 An administrative analyst tasked with completing the budget was assigned to the Probation Department, rather than a “neutral environment,” the report stated.

 Hall retired this month and spent her last day at the office Thursday. She could not be reached for comment for this article.

 Interim Chief Probation Officer Stephen Siegel said he has begun to prepare a response from the department regarding the report’s findings and a CCP meeting during the last week of this month will include discussion of the full panel’s response. Responses are due to the Grand Jury within 60 days. Siegel declined to comment further on the report at this time.

“We’re moving forward,” Siegel said.

The CCP’s own plan calls for monthly intelligence meetings and bi-weekly meetings to discuss measures and outcomes of the plan’s implementation. The former meeting has only occurred once and the latter has never happened, the report found.

The Probation Office has failed to notify partners when an offender removes an electronic ankle monitor and on one occasion, a monitor cut loose by an offender was recovered by a deputy probation officer from the Sheriff’s Office evidence room without following proper procedures.

“They went to someone new in the evidence room (who) gave it back to them,” Kuntz said in a phone interview Friday. “(Probation) never told us this subject cut their ankle monitor off for three or four weeks.”

Kuntz said he agreed wholeheartedly with the report even if “they were pretty easy on the whole thing. It was a good report … it hit the highlights.”

“The only thing is I wish we could have all worked together and accomplished something,” he said. “Some of the things the CCP wanted to do would have caused a danger to the public.”

For example, Kuntz cited a procedure calling for three days’ notice to an offender prior to a search.

He said he wants to see “greater accountability for these AB109ers” including a work program.

Though Kuntz said such a program is popular with the community, it is unlikely to qualify as one of the legislation’s prescribed evidence-based programs.

The county’s Superior Court justices will appoint a new chief probation officer and Kuntz said he has hopes a statewide search will produce a team player.

“Hopefully, we can make (the CCP) a partnership and not a dictatorship,” he said. “Hopefully, we get somebody that can sit and work as a team. If so … I think we can make it work.”