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City Heights Residents Want To Know How Prison Realignment Will Affect Them

December 1, 2011 1:14 p.m.


Mack Jenkins, Chief of Probation, San Diego County

Guy N. Mock, City Heights Town Council Co-Chair

Related Story: City Heights Residents Brace For Prisoner Realignment


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: City Heights residents want to make sure their community is ready for an influx of probationers. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh it's Thursday, December 1st. Our top story on Midday Edition, what does California's prison realignment program mean, and how it will affect neighborhoods? San Diego? A community meeting took place in City Heights last night for residents to ask those questions. We'll find out what answers they received from my guests. Mack Jenkins is chief of probation for San Diego County. Welcome to the show.

JENKINS: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Guy Mock is here too. He's cochair of the City Heights town council. Welcome.

MOCK: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Why was the meeting at Cherokee point elementary called last night? Can you give us a feeling of what were the concerns of the community?

MOCK: Well, over the last few months, we were having our monthly meetings, and we've been following AB 109 in our meetings, and when the actual assembly bill was passed, we decided that we should have a community meeting to make people aware of what AB109 is all about and to educate the public on it, because very few public were aware of what the law was about.

CAVANAUGH: And AB109 is the legislation that brought about prison realignment in California. Now, City Heights has typically had a high crime rate, guy. How did you think that might affect the number of new AB109 probationers in your community?

MOCK: Well, that's a hard question for me to answer. I think that would be better addressed by Matt Jenkins. I do know that we have over the raft few years been dropping our crime rate due to a collaborative that exists here between the community and the police department. It's even resulted in a City Heights on patrol being started and other collaboratives happening in the community that make this a saver place to live.

CAVANAUGH: Right. But I'm picking up on the idea that there were some people in the community concerned that the prison realignment and more probationers in City Heights might make it a less safe place to live. Is that fair to say?

MOCK: Yes, it is. I would definitely say that's a fair statement to make. That is why we wanted to have the meeting, so people would be better educated about actually what would be happening to the community and how the program was going to affect us. And that's why we had the DA's office there, we had the -- chief Lansdowne there, and Matt Jenkins from the Probation Office.

CAVANAUGH: I think there's still a lot of confusion, not only in City Heights, but all over California, about the prison realignment process. And you know you say this is more of a shift than a prison release program. Tell us what you mean.

JENKINS: Maureen, that's right. It is actually a shift of responsibilities, and it's not really an increase as it were of new offenders in a particular community. What the realignment has done is it's taken some responsibilities that here to for have been the responsibility of the state, and now are the responsibility of local jurisdictions, the county.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I was going to say, do you have an idea of how many more people are going to be under the jurisdiction of the county?

JENKINS: We do know. And at the full implementation of realignment, under the projections, the total number is about 4,000 offenders who will no longer be state possibility responsibilities, and now will be the local responsibility of the local county. That 4,000 figure represents 2,000 of what we call postrelease offenders, formerly parolees, and they're not probationers anymore. There's a new status created for them. They now are supervised by my probation officers, and at three years, that should total 2,000. Then there's another 2,000 nonviolent, nonserious, nonhigh risk sex offenders, who when they're sentenced, instead of going away to state prison now will stay locally and be managed in the sheriff's jails. That's where we get the figure of 4,000 shifted offenders.

CAVANAUGH: And that's the two sides of this AB109 legislation.

JENKINS: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: When you heard that residents in City Heights were concerned about a disproportionate number of probationers coming into their community, what was your response?

JENKINS: Well, I was pleased to see that there was an interest in arranging a community forum. That's part of what our responsibility is. My responsibility as a chief in the police department is to engage and inform the community. So I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to allay some concerns and give factual information about what was happening with realignment, and dispel misinformation because one of the things I shared with the residents last night is that the shifted offenders, postrelease offenders that my department now super vises, there's no increase. Those individuals would have been in the community post even if realignment had never occurred. There has been a lot of misunderstanding and some confusion about what realignment actually is.

CAVANAUGH: Now, when it comes to City Heights, is it typically one of the communities in San Diego that has the highest number of what used to be parolees?

JENKINS: I couldn't tell you what the percentages were when they were parolees. But I can tell you that the City Heights area does have a higher percentage of current probationers. Relative to the post release population, what I shared with the community last night, about 18% of those offenders that my department is new supervising are residing in the City Heights area. So it's fairly evenly distributed. And we have had about 400 total offenders that we're now supervising that, again, heretofore would have been supervised by parole agents.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you say it's fairly evenly distributed, do you mean in the City of San Diego our throughout the county?

JENKINS: Throughout the county it's fairly evenly distributed.

CAVANAUGH: So each community would have about 18%?

JENKINS: Correct. I have the figures from the county districts, supervisorial district, and district one has about 19%, district 2, 12%, the third district has 5%, the fourth district, which is where City Heights is has the 18%, and 16% in district five. And we checked the numbers for a specific Zip Code, 92105, and 7% of the total offenders shifted since October 1st are residing in that Zip Code.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think that presentation last night by Mack and Chief Lansdowne, did it calm the fears of City Heights residents?

MOCK: Everyone I spoke to after the meeting said it was a very good meeting, very informative. And I think not only did it educate them, but it also gave them the ability to put a face to some of the things we've heard. And more personal, a context they can go to after the meeting to ask questions other than just the ones that were answered in the meeting. So the short answer would be yes.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think there are things about this whole new program that are still being looked at casual by people in City Heights? I mean, it's sort of a wait and see attitude?

MOCK: There is always going to be some of that. I know that there's no way that we can allay everybody's fears. But I think that a large number of people who came to this meeting walked away satisfied with the answers they got and felt a lot more comfortable with AB109 in understanding it and realizing what it was all about.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the way you describe this to us, the fact it's a shift of who super vises, basically the same number of people who would be paroled or put on probation anyway, your department now super vises these people who would have been supervised by the state. So it sounds like it's you that really has to be concerned about this new program. What preparations have you made?

JENKINS: With realignment, the state is allocating some dollars to try to fund the shifted responsibilities to the local counties. So we have to grow as a probation department. And you heard me say that we're going to take on over the course of it, 2,000 nor offenders. Right now, we super vise 14,000 adults on probation in this county. Part of what I've been doing is building a brand-new division. We call it a post release division. And my intent this year is to hire 75 now probation officers to help us manage this work load. We've about 15 on board right now. And I made it a point to have three of them there last night. Because I wanted people to see me, and I also wanted them to see -- I had three proffers there who will be supervising those individual, and I wanted community to see who they were and hear their names. But we are having to grow, and we're doing a grand jury aggressive hiring, recruiting and training so we can keep up with the new work load.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what is your main concern in your department about this? Do you feel as if you have this handled organizationally, or do you think that there are still areas that you could move things around so the county is better able to handle this new responsibility?

JENKINS: Well, I can tell you, the primary concern is the adequacy of the funding that the state is making available, and the protection of the funding. One of the residents last night pointed out that right now, realignment is only funded for one year, in terms of protected funding. So one of the things we've been pressing with the governor, and the governor promised when he moved forward with realignment was to protect it with a constitutional amendment. So I could not stress that enough, the importance of a constitutional amendment being passed to protect the funding. Because these dollars are later -- the state tries to move some of these dollars away from realignment, that presidents us in it a very precarious position with decisions we'd have to make. The other things, I feel very confident about our ability as a probation department and a criminal justice community to manage the challenge because one of the things that we have in San Diego County, and we say this a lot, and it's actually really true, we have a very strong class action, criminal justice class action, and I give all credit to chief bill Lansdowne for what he's done with the San Diego police department in terms of how he's reached out to the community and reached out to me, to the probation department. We have a tremendous class action. One of the things we shared last night was how closely my proffers will be working with the police officers that serve that community to hold these offenders accountable because what we'll be doing, probation, is trying to get these individuals into services so they can change their behavior and not continue the reoffending that led them to going to prison in the first place.

CAVANAUGH: Ironically enough, California's prison realignment came into national spotlight this week with the sentencing of doctor Conrad Murray for the death of Michael Jackson. Because of the nature of his crime, the crime he's been convicted of, he's not going to go to state prison. . We all learned that. He may spend much of his four-year sentence out of jail on probation or house arrest in Los Angeles. And I think that came as -- that was sort of like the moment of truth for this prison realignment for a lot of people to actually realize that. As you say, there are going to be a lot of people who are now spending time that they would have spent in state prison or incarceration in general in the communities. What kind of outreach is there going to be and rehabilitation programs for people who are now spending part of their responses under house arrest?

JENKINS: Well, I share a group called the community directions partnership, which is charged with managing realignment, and the dollars that I mentioned earlier, among those dollars, we will have funds to pay for intervention services. So the types of services that we'll be looking for are increasing capacities for substance abuse treatment. We know a large percentage of the population that one goes to prison in the first place, so those coming back have substance abuse problems, we'll be looking to invest those dollars into work-readiness programs, to increase the likelihood of finding employment for the offenders coming. So among the things that we're doing is taking a good deep look at these individuals. All the proffers are doing needs assessment, so we can identify the types of service needs that they have, and through the CCP, we'll be looking to partner with the community, with providers, to provide those types of services.

CAVANAUGH: But again, that funding is only for a year?

JENKINS: Well, right now, it's funded for this fiscally year. Of the intent is that it will be on-going funding. So -- because it came with the state's budget. This year, the county received $25.1 million that the community corrections partnership is charged with applying to fund realignment. Next year, that's projected to be upwards of $65 million. It pays for the division I'm building, and it'll also pay for some of the housing costs that impact the sheriff's department. There's a large chunk of dollars that we will apply directly into intervention services. So the money is allotted, or there's a formula that tells us how much we're supposed to get. We do have concerns about the adequacy of it. One of our earlier estimates from the CCP, is that the cost to the county could be as high as a hundred million. The CCP is looking at cost effective mitigations, and things like that, that we can put in place without compromising community safety. The key about the funding is protecting it constitutionally so the state can't later say we've got to lose some money here, and let's take some money from realignment. That's positively critically.

CAVANAUGH: And guy, when it comes to that outreach, I understand there are nonprofits and communities within City Heights that would like to get involved in their community in the rehabilitation of some of the probationers in the community; is that right?

MOCK: Yes, that's correct. And in fact, last night, that was spoken about, and a couple of individuals who provide shows services were invited to join in this communication directions partnership and get thirds requirement services on the list of services to be provided to some of the people coming into the program. And in fact, they have a nice handout that they pas out with contact information on it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, one last quick question to you, are you thinking of doing this kind of a presentation in other communities in San Diego County?

JENKINS: Absolutely. I think it's so important, and I really did feel very good. I commend guy for -- and the City Heights counsel for pulling that together. Absolutely. We want to do that, and we'll go wherever we need to talk with and engage community members.

CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with Mack Jenkins, chief of probation for San Diego County, and Gary Mock, cochair of the City Heights council. Of thank you both very much for speaking with us.

MOCK: You're welcome.