The plan to move inmates from overcrowded state prisons into county correctional situations is still a work in progress.
This Tuesday night, a countywide town hall meeting in Redwood City will address what's been done so far in San Mateo County, and request public input on where we should be going.
"Yes, it will be two-way discussion," says San Mateo County Chief Probation Officer Stuart Forrest. "Now that we have more specifics of expectations and assumptions surrounding this population, we've begun working on the local plan."
AB 109, signed by Governor Jerry Brown last year, pushed so-called "low-level" inmates out of state prisons, and into the hands of counties throughout California.
The state's hands had been tied; the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2011 ruled that overcrowding in California's prisons created a potential for human rights violations.
Sacramento legislators responded by passing AB 109. The law forced counties to create what's called the Local Implementation Plan for Public Safety Realignment to deal with the influx.
San Mateo County has received about 100 prisoners so far, criminals granted early release from their state sentences in order to move to county supervision. Most were initially serving 18-month sentences; in fact, says Forrest, prisoners the county has received have served only four or five months prior to their release.
Forrest expects the county will receive 500-600 prisoners by October 2016. He wants the public to know just who is arriving.
"When you read the legislation (AB 109), it talks about non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent offenders," says Forrest. "It's really very misleading, because it refers to the offense that the person was last convicted for. Let's say the last offense that a person was sent to prison for was in that non-, non-, non- category, like a drug conviction. It may ignore the fact that the person has other aspects of their criminal history that are violent."
It's a misnomer to think these newly-arriving prisoners are heading into our county jails. In fact, most will be out in public, under the supervision of probation officers, not incarerated behind bars.
"Our information is that almost 90 percent of the people we're getting back have a documented substance abuse problem," says Forrest. "A lot of our efforts are for making sure people get appropriate treatment when they return, as well as making sure that they are not going to commit new crimes, and that the public is protected."
The state has created a funding mechanism for the plan. Forrest says money saved from closing certain state facilities, and diverted to the counties, will make up the bulk of the funding. Initially, additional dollars also came from vehicle license fees and state tax revenues. San Mateo County, in the first year, is expected to receive about $4.2 million for management of the program.
California is not alone in attempting to reduce its prison population through realignment. Oregon began a similar program about ten years ago.
"Their outcomes are very good," says Forrest. "We anticipate replicating, if not exceeding their results. They did it by having a very good balance of accountability and law enforcement on one side, and treatment on the other."
The chief probabation officer of the county does not mince words when he considers the challenge ahead, and how citizens ought to think about AB 109.
"I think they ought to consider it the most significant policy and legal change ever, ever in the state's history," says Forrest. "It completely re-works criminal justice, and it offers an opportunity to demonstrate how effective local supervision is."
The town hall meeting, hosted by Forrest and other members of a community corrections partnership, will be held Tuesday, January 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 101 of the County Government Center in Redwood City. Anyone with an interest in the topic is welcome to attend.
"Don't assume criminal justice has the entire job," says Forrest. "Citizens are involved as well."
More information is available on the county probation department website.