Since it started receiving lower level offenders from state prisons in October 2011, Sacramento County has been criticized for not spending enough money on rehabilitation, thus perpetuating the cycle of crime.
Now the county faces questions about where it spends its rehabilitation dollars.
The county's efforts to change criminal behavior have focused on day reporting centers. Offenders released from prison report to one of three centers daily and receive behavioral training and other services. The centers serve 580 offenders at an annual cost of $6.2 million.
Since the first center opened in July 2010, 130 people have graduated from the program, just a fraction of the 7,000 high-risk offenders considered eligible.
"That's unacceptable," said Supervisor Susan Peters. "It doesn't work for public safety in Sacramento County."
Supervisor Phil Serna also expressed concern. "This warrants more questions about how we are spending these dollars and whether we are spending them effectively," Serna said.
One offender says she hasn't been able to get services since she was released from prison in January.
"Any individual leaving prison can use counseling," said the woman, who asked not to be identified because she is under Probation Department supervision. "I was locked up for six years. When I got home, I didn't want to leave the house for three months."
Don Meyer, who recently resigned as the county's chief probation officer to take a job with Los Angeles County, said the centers can't serve more people without more funding.
Sacramento and other California counties receive state money to supervise offenders released from prison and other offenders who previously would have been sentenced to prison. State lawmakers, facing pressure to reduce prison crowding, approved the switch to county responsibility for offenders two years ago.
Sacramento County expects to spend $30 million this year, with most of the money going to jail and other supervision costs.
Meyer said the centers can't serve more people because the behavioral training classes can hold only so many people and remain effective. A contractor, Strategies for Change, receives $200,000 a year to teach the classes.
The biggest cost for the centers is salary and benefits for 39 county employees. Most of them are probation officers who provide supervision and case management for offenders taking classes at the centers.
Day reporting centers are used across the state, and some counties have found a less expensive option than Sacramento County.
Kern County has one that costs $920,000 a year or less than half what Sacramento County spends to operate each of its centers.
The center is operated by BI Inc., which has day reporting centers across the country and in 16 California counties. Matt Moore, a regional director for the company, said counties have been turning to BI because it provides effective service that costs less than they could provide on their own.
Cost and experience were the reasons Kern County picked BI, said Chief Probation Officer David Kuge. "It's a one-stop shop," he said. "They provide a lot of different services under one roof."
By contrast, Sacramento County has to send offenders to different providers for a number of services.
Sacramento County received a quote from BI of $1 million to run a day reporting center, acting Chief Probation Officer Suzanne Collins said.
But the BI plan doesn't include probation officers, which the department considered essential, she said.
Peters and other Sacramento County supervisors say they want other organizations to handle some services for the new offenders under county responsibility.
One of those is Ascend, which has been certified by Sacramento Superior Court to provide behavioral training to offenders. The program is run by two criminal defense attorneys and has received praise from criminologists, law-school professors and an assistant chief federal defender in U.S. District Court.
The attorneys have lobbied for county funding for nearly two years without success.
"We could probably do the work for about a tenth of what it costs the Probation Department," said Christine Galves, one of the program's founders. "It's ridiculous."
State funding for the new offenders is controlled by the Community Corrections Partnership. The partnership is made up of officials from law enforcement and social services departments that have received almost all the funding.