Placer County's Criminal Justice Master Plan-Planning for the Future
Keeping the public safe is one of my top priorities. The other four county supervisors and I regularly support Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner as he develops and implements innovative programs. We also make sure the deputies have the tools they need to safely and adequately do their jobs. But the criminal justice system is more than just supporting the men and women of law enforcement.
When a person is arrested for committing a crime, the journey through the criminal justice system is just beginning. After the arrest, the District Attorney gets involved to determine if charges should be filed. Criminal matters are typically heard in a Superior Court, with the defendant being represented by a public defender if he or she can’t afford an attorney. If a defendant is convicted, enter the county’s Probation Department who assists the court to determine an appropriate sentence. Then the county’s Health and Human Services department gets involved, providing services, such as substance abuse or alcohol treatment, anger management, and mental health treatment as needed. Oversight for much of the system comes from the County Executive Office.
Placer County began developing a Criminal Justice Master Plan to not only find ways to improve the current system, but to also serve as a future system planning document. Representatives from the many agencies involved in the criminal justice system have been meeting regularly, and we hired a consultant to prepare a report analyzing our system’s strengths and weaknesses. That report is now public and serves as one part of the county’s efforts to improve how we administer justice.
Having participated in many of the discussions, I can tell you there have been disagreements and differences of opinion. But despite the rancor, or perhaps because of it, we have been able to work out differences and make progress. We now have a greater understanding of each other’s goals and limitations, in short the discussions have made us a better organization.
Developing the Criminal Justice Master Plan is a multi-phase process: collecting and analyzing data and then developing findings and recommendations; thoroughly reviewing the findings and recommendations; and developing a way to put the plan in motion while determining where best to start. We will then need to quantify the costs to the various plan components and how to fund them.
Having completed the data collection and recommendations, the system has broken into three workgroups that are meeting regularly to complete the Plan’s final phase. These workgroups include the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney, Probation, Health and Human Services, the County's indigent defense firms, the County Executive Office, local law enforcement and the Superior Court. Six Superior Court judges are leading the workgroups. In addition, the Community Corrections Partnership is meeting monthly to encourage public discourse between Partnership members, service providers and community stakeholders.
Prior to the master plan the County was innovative in advancing programs aimed at reducing high rates of recidivism, where inmates return to jail either for violating their probation or committing new offenses. We also offer jail alternatives: Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veteran’s Court. We have also adopted research-based risk assessments to determine who is likely to reoffend or fail to abide by their release terms and then take steps to avoid those outcomes.
Recently, much of this work is in response to AB 109 Realignment, which resulted in non-violent state prisoners being sent to county jails to serve out their sentences. This policy shift has strained local jurisdictions across the state. The responsibility for dealing with a much more hardened and sophistical criminal – even though they are designated “non-violent” by the state -- has moved to California’s 58 counties.
Placer County officials realize that the solution to addressing an increased jail population is not simply building more jail beds, but addressing the root causes of criminal activity. Although the opening of the new South Placer Jail will help alleviate overcrowding, the long term plan must be sustainable, by providing a bed for those who need it, and providing opportunities for rehabilitation to those who want to and show aptitude for positive life change. While we are doing many things right, there is always room for improvement and Realignment has pushed our self-evaluation to the forefront. We have a goal of rehabilitating criminals, but of also ensuring we protect the public and keep the men and women who serve the system safe as well.
As always, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you. I always welcome your feedback and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 916-787-8950.