Read this interesting interview with David Muhammad, the Chief Probational Officer for Alameda County. Seems like his heart is in the right place, and he's doing some serious thinking on how to make this work. This can be a big success if agencies follow Muhammad's example, rather than be pulled into the realignment plan kicking and screaming.
On October 1, California will move 848 prisoners from state prisons to Alameda County jails to finish their sentences. The county anticipates an additional 47 new inmates each month after that.
Also, any low-level parolee from Alameda County who violates their parole will go to county jail instead of back to the state prison where they served their sentence.
Once realignment is in full swing, the county expects 267 more people in jail on any given day than are serving time there today.
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Sergeant J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sherriff’s department said they have the space for the new prisoners in county jail. But they still need the additional state funds for new inmates. “You need to be provided with money,” he said, “to feed and clothe them.”
Eventually, Muhammad’s department expects to supervise and serve an estimated 1,900 new cases.
“I hope that it’s actually huge — that we are doing a much, much better job than the State had been doing,” said Muhammad.
The state, he added, has focused too much on incarceration instead of rehabilitation.
Muhammad wants to shift the focus towards rehabilitation by changing the county’s risk assessment system. When a person is first released to the probation department, officers there assess their likelihood to commit another crime. Probation officers then give the most attention to the people who are at the highest risk.
While this system is good in theory, Muhammad said, they are incorrectly assessing people. Under the current system, someone likely to commit 18 small thefts will score the same as someone likely to commit armed robbery – and will be supervised accordingly.
A study by The Pew Center for the States, however, concludes that low-risk people do better with less supervision.
For example, low-risk people are more likely to have a job, Muhammad said, but if they have to go to the probation office during working hours to meet with a probation officer once a week, they are more likely to lose that job.
Muhammad identified another crucial area where the Alameda County probation can improve – he wants to get the department to the point where each probation officer supervises 50 people.
“Right now,” he said, “the ratio is all over the place.”
Currently 15,000 people are on probation in Alameda County. Eleven thousand of them don’t have probation officers because of a lack of staffing and funding.
AB 109 will provide some of that funding.
“I actually see this as an opportunity where we can fix everything at once,” Muhammad said.