Editorial: Supervisors must drill down on realignment

Published: Friday, Jun. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A

Sacramento County supervisors can't seem to hog enough air time complaining that the county doesn't get enough money from the state for public safety realignment. And the sheriff threatened that he would have to eliminate patrol officers if he didn't get more money. The jail, he said, is his top priority.

Here's the reality: Sacramento County received $28.9 million in 2012-13 and will receive $34.1 million in 2013-14. The problem is not the amount from the state, but how it is being used.

Supervisor Susan Peters asked the right question. What about progress on reducing the number of people who have been arrested and accused of a crime, but are awaiting trial? The aim should be to make sure defendants show up for trial and don't pose a threat of new crime during the period between arrest and trial.

Sheriff Scott Jones told supervisors that about 100 pretrial individuals a month are allowed to remain in the community while their cases proceed, instead of being held in county jail. That compares with 185 a month in 1994.

Leading up to realignment, which started in October 2011, the county's community corrections partnership report concluded that "about 12 percent to 15 percent of the pretrial population" did not need to be in jail. That would be about 200 a month.

Yet supervisors simply accepted the sheriff's statement that "we're being as aggressive as we can." They need to drill down into who is in the jail and who really needs to be there.

According to the community corrections partnership's most recent report in April, realignment-related inmates account for just over 20 percent of the jail population. This is a problem only if the county does nothing differently.

The new county probation chief, Lee Seale, made a more compelling presentation. He told supervisors that his department is doing a good job of intensively supervising the 1,500 newly realigned offenders who do their post-prison supervision with the county instead of with state parole and the 300 offenders who serve part of their sentence in county jail and part under county probation supervision. They get money from the state for that.

Where county probation is hurting is in supervision of the 21,000 probationers who were a county responsibility long before realignment. The department has been drastically reduced since 2007, so that only 5 percent of probationers are actively supervised.

Seale would like to focus intensive supervision on 700 high-risk drug offenders, most addicted to methamphetamines – "a specially pernicious drug," he said, which is a particular problem in California.

He has the staff to supervise them. But, he told the board, what's missing is treatment, which would cost $1.1 million. These are not realignment offenders, so the county can't tap realignment funds for this.

The problem here is not realignment, but failing to rethink the jail population and to devote resources to tackling the drug problem that is the big driver of property crime, and many violent crimes.

Twenty months into realignment, the board of supervisors has yet to change its mindset. Instead of confronting real issues, supervisors continue to play the victim, grumbling about realignment funding.

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