By Nadine Ono.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously adopted a set of recommendations with the potential to fundamentally transform the county’s criminal justice system. The board also directed the county’s Executive Office to coordinate the multiple departments involved in criminal justice to develop the recommendations into cost-effective strategies and to report on progress every six months.
“If you have the right team in place, the right demographic, the right region, it can happen,” said Supervisor John Tavaglione. “We cannot become the jail capital of the world. The money that is spent on jail beds–think of what we can do with treatment. We can’t afford to do that any longer. We need to do things differently.”
Burdened with a court-ordered cap on its jail population as well as increasing budget pressures, Riverside County partnered with CA Fwd to develop a data-driven analysis to find out who is in its jails and why. This is the first step toward lowering the jail population by using alternative approaches to control costs and improve results.
CA Fwd’s Justice System Change Initiative (J-SCI) team, Riverside County’s Probation and Sheriff’s departments worked closely together for two years to develop the Jail Utilization Study, which will help the county understand inefficiencies in the system. To review analysis and propose solutions, the project also involved the J-SCI Executive Steering Committee, which includes the leaders from all departments working in the county’s criminal justice system, as well as the county executive office.
“We congratulate Riverside County for tackling this issue,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd. “Riverside County’s decision to use data to make informed decisions is a sophisticated and intelligent way will lead to system improvement, lower costs and better public safety results.”
The Jail Utilization Study found that nearly half of the inmates in Riverside County’s jails on any given day are not there for new crimes, but for technical reasons such as court commitments, revocations, warrants and holds.
Additionally, most new crime commitments are drug and alcohol-related offenses and 80 percent of those booked for new crimes were arrested for non-violent offenses. Mentally ill individuals are booked mostly for holds, are booked more often and stay longer than other inmates. The findings afford the county many opportunities to explore alternatives to jail for special populations that include the mentally ill and substance abusers.
Jail systems across the country are facing the similar issues to those found in the study. Riverside County is one of the first in the nation to systematically reconfigure data to assess the dynamics of its jail population in an effort to make better use of their jail facilities and develop more cost-effective solutions that reduce the need for incarceration.
Here are the eight recommendations developed by CA Fwd and the executive steering committee and adopted by the Board of Supervisors include:
- Increase success in the community to reduce jail bookings for reasons not related to a new crime.
- Improve probation success and increase alternative responses to technical violations.
- Explore the potential to reduce delays and expedite court hearings.
- Maximize the use of pre-trial releases and programs.
- Expand cost-effective, community-based custody alternatives, expand effective jail programs targeted to reduce jail recurrence and consider a non- or medium-secure facility for traditional programs and probation violations.
- Develop interventions to improve mental health outcomes and reduce jail time for the mentally ill.
- Work collaboratively to better address substance use and abuse.
- Establish dedicated J-SCI positions to institutionalize and bolster system change across county departments and judiciary.
Supervisor Marion Ashley explained what the recommendations will mean for the county: “These programs will reduce the need for jail beds and it’s going to save a lot of money, and while you’re doing it, it’s going to save a lot of lives.”
The Probation Department was the first agency within Riverside County to use J-SCI’s data-driven process to reduce the number of probation failures that resulted in warrants and ultimately in jail bookings. Using data-driven knowledge, the department was able to reduce technical probation violations by 25 percent since spring 2014.
“What’s been really insightful on the work we’ve done with California Forward is a better understanding of the impact the probation department’s policies and practices and individual deputy probation officer’s decision-making has on the entire criminal justice system,” said Riverside County Probation Chief Mark Hake, who is also leading the J-SCI Executive Steering Committee.
The Jail Utilization Study is just one aspect of CA Fwd’s partnership with Riverside County. Its J-SCI team is also working with Riverside County Department of Mental Health Substance Use Administration to develop a plan for state approval that will allow for significant additional federal dollars to provide services to people with drug and alcohol abuse problems which is a large contributor to crime-related behavior, demands on the jail, and costs to the public health system.
In addition to Riverside County, CA Fwd’s J-SCI team is working with San Bernardino and El Dorado Counties to lower their jail populations by transforming their criminal justice systems. In 2016 CA Fwd will communicate the lessons learned in these three counties and will explore ways to replicate the system change efforts in counties with a similar commitment to leadership, performance and quality public services.