By David Eugene Archer Sr.
San Joaquin County’s recidivism rate is trending downward, according to the county probation department.
San Joaquin County Chief Probation Officer Stephanie James in July presented an annual recidivism report to the County Board of Supervisors that reflected a decline in convictions of released prisoners.
“We’re continually assessing the work that we’re doing, improving the strategies… our communication, and … our referral process,” James told supervisors.
Many Californians who normally would have spent time in prison became the responsibility of county probation departments in 2011 after the passage of Assembly Bill 109, California’s Public Safety Realignment Act. The SJ Probation Department tracks the number of prisoners who are released and then subsequently arrested and convicted.
In the last tracking period – October 2014 through September 2015 – 772 offenders were released. Of them, 332 were high-risk offenders most likely to commit violent crime. According to James, only 43 percent were later arrested and 23 percent convicted.
Over 80 percent of the crimes they committed were related to drug abuse, weapons charges, stolen property, assault and DUI, she said. The three most common arrests were possession of a controlled substance, weapons-related charges and vehicle thefts, James said.
During the first year of realignment, 44 percent of 813 prisoners released were arrested and 27 percent were convicted, according to James.
James credits a Stockton-based nonprofit organization, Friends Outside, for helping prisoners transition back into the community. She said her department now refers all arrestees to Friends Outside and court appearance rates have increased to 97 percent.
Gretchen Newby, executive director of Friends Outside, said the organization’s biggest success is with those currently incarcerated and about to be placed on probation.
“What we do is… go to the jails or the prison… and tell the client what to expect and what they need to do once they’re released,” Newby said.
Jason, 38, was helped by Friends Outside before his release. He said the organization provided him with clothes and bus passes, directions to local food banks, assistance writing a resume and obtaining an ID card from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Groups like this are just phenomenal. I’ve been in and out of trouble… and there was never anything like this available to me before,” Jason said.