By Nadino Ono.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved recommendations presented in a jail study conducted by CA Fwd’s (J-SCI). The Board also directed its Sheriff-Coroner Jim Hart and Chief Probation Officer Fernando Giraldo to implement the recommendations and report back in April 2018 on their progress.
“I want to thank CA Fwd and especially Scott MacDonald and Jim Mayer for a quality organization that really likes to look at good governance in more ways than one,” said Supervisor Bruce McPherson. “This is really welcome to see what they have done and it’s great that they came to Santa Cruz County.”
The jail study focused on all bookings in 2015 and collected available data from four and a half years to learn about jail recidivism and/or recurrence. The study also looked at the most serious charge of the person booked as well as cases with no new crime, which include probation violations and warrants.
Santa Cruz County has the second highest number of misdemeanor arrests among mid-sized counties. The study showed that most bookings are drug and alcohol related and make up the majority of releases before arraignment (75 percent of bookings are released within four days). It also showed the 84 percent of new crime bookings are non-violent and non-violent offenders who return on warrants more often than violence offenders.
“It’s always disheartening to me that, if we didn’t have drug and alcohol problems in our society, boy, we would be a lot better for it,” said Supervisor McPherson. “But see how we can turn that around and maybe getting those who do enter our jails on those charges, if we can get them on the right track. I think that’s what you’re saying and what we need to pay more attention to and I appreciate your efforts up to date.”
“Santa Cruz has been a leader on wisely investing their criminal justice dollars for a number of years,” added Scott MacDonald, CA Fwd J-SCI. “With funding from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and the Community Corrections Partnership, we were able to continue that work by helping Santa Cruz focus in on alcohol and low-level offenders to recommend some alternatives from jail that are cost effective.”
The study recommendations include:
- Build upon recent efforts such as the Recovery Center to mitigate the impact to the jail booking process caused by misdemeanor alcohol offenses.
- Delve more deeply into strategies to reduce the use of jail for misdemeanants and develop alternatives to jail for high need, low risk populations
- Maximize the use of pretrial release programs and consider conducting a court processing review to identify opportunities to expedite court processing and reduce unnecessary delays.
- Further examine the “side door” entries –warrants, holds, court commitments and technical probation violations–and develop responses to preempt and respond to these issues.
- Explore and examine outcomes for the Seriously Mentally Ill in jail and expand successful community based treatment services.
- Work collaboratively with other county departments to better address substance use and abuse and build additional capacity to address Proposition 47 impacts.
- Identify the cost-savings and cost-avoidance value of strategies that contain jail overcrowding and reinvest resources to maintain and expand those strategies.
- Continue to advance the programming that exists in the Santa Cruz County Jail and continue efforts to establish continuity and unified case planning to ensure successful probation and community reentry.
- Formalize and institutionalize a data-driven justice system change effort in Santa Cruz. Consider starting with convening stakeholders for discussion on “purpose of jail.”
“We applaud Santa Cruz County for taking data-driven evidence into consideration when making public policy decisions,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd. “The jail study showed what areas of opportunities are available to the county to make lasting change in the criminal justice system.”
In addition to Santa Cruz, CA Fwd’s J-SCI team has conducted jail studies in , and El Dorado counties in an effort to use data to lower their jail populations and transformation to their criminal justice systems.