Editorial: Parolees are not the biggest crime threat

Published: Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 - 9:19 am | Page 11A
Last Modified: Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 - 9:32 am

As he begins another year of big initiatives, Gov. Jerry Brown can rest assured that "realignment" will go into the history books as a legacy of his second stint as governor.

That law reduced state prison overcrowding by shifting responsibility for certain nonviolent offenders from state prison and parole to county jail and probation starting in October 2011.

We don't yet know whether realignment is working, however, largely because there is no uniform statewide collection of information – including baseline pre-realignment information to serve as a comparison.

Four city police chiefs, including former Sacramento Chief Rick Braziel, set out to remedy the pre-realignment baseline piece. The results of their initial study were an eye-opener.

Working through the Council of State Governments Justice Center, researchers went through 3 1/2 years of arrest records in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Redlands, representing a cross section of California's population (www.nationalreentryresource center.org/publications/california- arrests-study).

They expected to find that a majority of arrests would be people currently on state parole or county probation. Certainly anecdotes and assertions to that effect abound.

Well, the study found the opposite. As the accompanying chart shows, in the 42-month period before realignment, state parolees accounted for just 8.5 percent of total arrests across the four cities; in Sacramento, 10.3 percent.

In California, every person who finishes a state prison sentence is supervised in the community under state parole, usually for three years. As the study notes, state parole policies since 2006 have vastly improved. The state assesses each parolee to determine risk of reoffending – and the study found this practice accurately identifies high-risk people for intensive supervision.

The picture was different with county probationers, people who have been sentenced to serve their time under county supervision instead of in county jail. Overall, probationers accounted for 13.9 percent of arrests.

Sacramento was the big outlier all around on probation. People stay on probation longer here than in the other places, making the volume of probationers higher and the proportion on supervision much less. In Sacramento, the study found that only 4 percent of probationers were actively supervised.

No one should be surprised that in the 42-month period, probationers accounted for 20 percent of Sacramento arrests, as the chart shows.

And where the vast majority of arrests across the four cities involved people who had no parole or probation history (62 percent), Sacramento, again, was the big outlier. Here only 49 percent of arrests involved people with no parole or probation history.

This has got to change. The situation merits a close look by the city Police Department, City Council, county Probation Department, county supervisors and the Sacramento Superior Court.

One clear takeaway of the study, says former Corrections Secretary Matt Cate, who is now executive director of the California State Association of Counties, is that local communities should be "assessing risk on everyone you are supervising and detaining, and doing something with that data."

Target limited resources to those at highest risk of offending – much as the Sacramento police department has done successfully with "hot-spot policing" that targets resources to high-activity crime spots.

Another big takeaway is that one in three arrests for drug crimes involved someone on probation or parole. The researchers noted that police officers "expressed frustration with the insufficient availability of substance abuse treatment and mental health services" for these people. That should be a major priority.

The four-city study should provide the impetus for local communities to do a better job targeting supervision and treatment resources. That is what will make realignment a positive legacy for California.

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