By Christopher Nelson.
It’s a well-worn narrative at this point: the US Supreme Court told California its state prisons were overcrowded to the point of being cruel and unusual punishment. Needing to act swiftly, AB 109 was passed and enacted without any pilot program in a few counties. Instead, all 58 California counties had to prepare for an influx of non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders that would test their own capacity limits. Some came from state prisons. Others who normally would have been sent to state facilities stayed in county jails.
But where this new law presented the most opportunity was for counties to take the additional funding provided by the state via AB 109 and think of ways to address recidivism at its core. While it can cost around $55,000 to keep one person in one jail bed for one year, it costs far less to treat a substance abuse or mental health disorder as diseases first and crimes second, especially when you factor in AB 109 and Affordable Care Act federal reimbursements to counties.
Of course, these benefits are most quickly realized in counties such as Santa Barbara County where this philosophy was already in place and ripe for expansion with the additional money. California Forward spent a day talking with Beverly Taylor, the Chief Probation Officer in SB County, as well as several of her employees, others who work for the Good Samaritan Shelterthat they contract with and a man named Albert Carlon, who after 33 years spent in the revolving door of recidivism, is 19 months sober and living in permanent housing at Good Samaritan.
Santa Barbara County Probation already had a long-standing relationship with Good Samaritan; AB 109 simply allowed them to expand what was already in place. Most noteworthy about Good Samaritan is that they offer a complete cycle of services. from detox all the way to permanent housing, in the same facility. This is critical, as Mr. Carlon would tell you. All it takes is one day in between facilities for some with a lifetime of problems to fall back into bad habits. He talks of when an application for permanent housing at Good Samaritan went missing for just a few days. That alone was almost enough reason for him to go on another bender.
But it didn’t happen. Being able to receive treatment, go to AA and apply for housing all in the same facility allowed him to finally change his life. The reduced caseload of AB 109 also meant that Esther Trejo, the Deputy Probation Officer (DPO) assigned to his case, was able to spend more one on one time with him and really invest in Mr. Carlon as a human being and not just a case file.
Although Mr. Carlon is just one man, his success is indicative of what many others are experiencing three years into AB 109. Now that the initial panic has subsided and counties like Santa Barbara are in something of a groove in this new world of theirs, the results speak for themselves. Watch the above video to hear directly from those involved just how critical this law has become in slowing down the ever-revolving door at county jails.