Contra Costa County jails operate as a model for other counties that continue to struggle with the consequences and reality of prison realignment, a nonprofit research report concludes.
“While many counties have struggled to manage the new influx of inmate population, Contra Costa County appears to be exceeding expectations with the newfound responsibility,” the JFA Institute reported.
The study said Contra Costa’s success can be attributed to practices such as cooperation between the “key justice agencies,” including the sheriff, district attorney, public defender, courts and probation department.
According to JFA Institute’s study, early meetings between these agencies reached a consensus to maximize “split sentencing.”
The study describes split sentences as a provision under Public Safety Realignment (AB 109) for “non-violent, non-serious, non-sex felonies,” whereby courts impose jail as punishment and supervision by probation departments. “Split sentencing permits, in addition to jail time, additional correctional measures.”
“This historic culture within the Contra Costa County criminal justice community was already producing extremely low rates of correctional populations prior to the implementation of AB 109,” JFA Institute reported. “…If other counties replicated Contra Costa’s model, the state could experience reduced prison, jail and probation rates.”
The county’s crime rate and arrests run parallel to the state’s 57 other counties, but prior to realignment, it sent only 13 percent of people convicted of a felony to prison, in contrast to the state’s average of 20 percent, according to a January study done by the JFA Institute.
The JFA Institute study reported that not long after AB 109 passed, various county agencies convened to critique what the best approaches would be to manage post-realignment jail populations, based on evidence.
One requisite of AB 109 was for each county to create a Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) to submit spending plans to the state, indicating how AB 109 funding would be used. According to the JFA Institute, “such a committee existed previously” in Contra Costa County.
Sixty percent of Contra Costa’s realignment funding is allocated for programs and services that are designed to assist individuals convicted of crimes, JFA Institute reported.
“The Probation Department exhibits a solid level of professionalism in providing supervision and services to people placed on probation,” the study reported. This level of confidence in probation supervision is evidenced in a low prison disposition rate, a high rate of split sentencing and short probation terms, it was reported.
“In assessing the impact of AB 109 legislation on the jail population, Contra Costa County’s jail population has remained constant when compared to the overall state rate, which increased by 11 percent,” the study reported.
L.A. County Jail
The Los Angeles County jail system grew by 4,000 inmates since AB 109’s implementation, with more than 6,000 AB 109 inmates, and “one of the lowest rates of split sentencing in the state (6 percent), while Contra Costa has one of the highest rates (about 90 percent),” the study noted.
Contra Costa County’s jails hold fewer than 100 inmates who are AB 109 commitments, or who are on a parole hold, the study said.
“Of the people who are re-arrested, the new arrest charges are mostly for non-violent and drug crimes,” JFA Institute reported. “…Probationers with the shorter terms have lower recidivism rates.”
Contra Costa has a “relatively high probation termination rate,” which reflects the number of those on probation who complete the terms of their probation, not having them revoked, the study reported.
“The final indicator of the county’s low correctional footprint is its low jail incarceration rate,” JFA Institute reported.
Contra Costa ranked among the top 10 of California’s 58 counties with the lowest rate of incarceration per 100,000 people, according to a 2010 report.
The JFA Institute policy implementation study said other counties could adopt the same practices as Contra Costa County, including:
- shorter probation terms
- greater reliance on contracted services for mental health, medical, substance abuse, employment and housing services, and defense counsel representation
- risk assessment
- increased use of split sentencing for AB 109 inmates.
“Perhaps the most striking attribute of Contra Costa County is the ability of key criminal justice agencies to work together in a very productive manner,” the study concluded.