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Prisons Battle Heats Up At Calif. Capitol

September 5, 2013 1:31 p.m.

GUESTS

Mack Jenkins, Chief of Probation, San Diego County

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Senior Policy Advocate for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Related Story: Prisons Battle Heats Up At Calif. Capitol

Transcript:

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: California is facing another court ordered deadline to reduce its prison population. How to make that happen is the subject of an intense debate in Sacramento. Federal judges say the population needs to be cut by nearly 10,000 inmates. Leaders in the Senate want to stop fighting the lawsuit and thereby gain the state more time to whittle down the number of inmates. Counties like San Diego will likely be in charge of more offenders than they used to be. Joining me are my guests, Mack Jenkins is chief of probation at San Diego County. Welcome back to the program.

JENKINS: I'm happy to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is advocate for justice and drug policy for San Diego and imperial counties. Welcome.

DOOLEY-SAMMULI: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Mack, you were at a news conference where governor brown introduced his plan of alternative housing for inmates. Tell us why you support this approach.

JENKINS: Well, I was at the press conference in my role as the president of the chief of the probation offers association of California. And the reason the chief probation officers support this approach is we believe it's the surest way to protect public safety and avoid the early release of any inmates in order to comply with the 3-judge panels, reduce the prison population to 137.5% of the design capacity. We've been engaged with the governor's administration throughout this issue. And we've looked for avenue to the comply with the Court's order that they look at capacity options that would not put the public at risk and would prevent the early release of any inmates.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of alternative facilities is the governor considering transferring inmates to?

JENKINS: He's looking at leasing some county jail beds. There are some jails in the state that still have a certain capacity available. Also look at continuing what had been established in the previous administration, sending some inmates out of state, and looking at releasing some private jails.

CAVANAUGH: In order to just get the inmates out of the prisons that have been deemed overcrowded, but not release them back to the counties. Is that the idea?

JENKINS: Yeah, the idea would be to avoid early releasing any of the inmates back to the counties to meet the prejudged orders complying with that order that they would just then be housed in other beds and other locations that currently do have capacity.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Margaret, the ACLU is a critic of governor Brown's plan. Why shouldn't inmates be housed in other facilities to reduce overcrowding and protect the public while the state seeks additional legal redress of this order to reduce the population?

DOOLEY-SAMMULI: California needs to invest in keeping communities safe and healthy. Every dollar that we spend on another prison cell, a private prison cell, is a dollar we're not spending on rehabilitation, crime prevention, and other community needs like education and healthcare. So if the governor's plan is approved by the legislature, that would swallow up the entire state reserve that we now have. Because voters passed Prop 30, gave the governor a tax increase because voters wanted to invest in our communities. To now take that money simply to not create a long-term solution to our prison overcrowding crisis, which didn't develop yesterday, it's been a long time coming, litigation has been going on for a long time, why are we still in a position where we need to buy at much expense another three years of business as usual? So if we think that we can in fact create durable solutions to safely bring down our prison population for the long run, then we need to do it now. Most people in state prison are coming home, whether it's next month or in two months. If we invest simply in their warehousing, we're not investing in their rehabilitation or safety in the community.

CAVANAUGH: Mack, the state's legislative analyst came out with its analysis today. And it's found that the governor's plan might be a short term fix, but it is not a long-term solution to prison overcrowding, and additionally it risks California being held in contempt of court and fined. I wonder how you respond to that. Is that how you have read this plan? &%F0

JENKINS: Well, I can tell you that in the state probation officers' conversations with the governor's office, as we talked about the need to comply with the judges' order, we talked in very specific terms that the solution to comply with the order obviously needs to be durable. But it wasn't necessarily going to speak to the long-term solutions that needed to be in place to continue to make sure that California's prisons do operate within the design capacity. And frankly, the governor has supported what has been a successful effort reducing admissions in the state prisons through the SB678 plan. That was prior to realignment. It proceeded AB109. And in his budget, the governor approved 100 million dollars to continue investing in infrastructure and programs to continue to increase the successes of high-risk probationers who absent supervision and services were failing and going into prison. So we well recognize, the probation chiefs, that there need to be long-term solutions. But frankly, had the stay that the governor requested been acted on, we wouldn't be under the pressure that we're under right now to continue the effort to deal with the prison population.

CAVANAUGH: What Matt referred to earlier, the early release idea that governor brown's plan is hoping to override, the initial plan submitted by the state to the Courts to reduce the prison population, it talks about releasing thousands of inmates for things like good behavior or on medical parole. And Margaret, I'm wondering how California residents would be safe if that happened.

DOOLEY-SAMMULI: Well, what the Court has ordered was in fact a plan proposed by the state itself. After much expert testimony in the Court about what would be -- what would options be that would be safe, that would protect public safety, every member of the community in California, myself included, wants our communities to be safe. Can earned release and parole programs be implemented in a safe way? According to expensive testimony by national experts to the federal court, yes, in fact it can be done safely through risk assessments, making sure that you're looking at people who are appropriate for community supervision, and I think it's really important to know that one of the national experts that testified in the court that these programs would be safe for the community that could implemented safely is now the secretary of the California department of corrections and rehabilitation. So our system is now led by a corrections expert who knows that allowing inmates, incident I have beenizing inmates to participate in rehabilitation and earn release or to identify those who are appropriate for parole is in fact a program that can be implemented safely for Californians and much more cheaply! These people are coming home at some point. Do we want our communities to be ready for them? Do we want to have invested in their rehabilitation? Or do we want to warehouse them and just toss the dice?

CAVANAUGH: Matt Jenkins, I'm imagining since you support the governor's plan, that you don't agree with this, you don't agree with the earned credit early release that was originally proposed by the state. I'm wondering, could San Diego handle anymore probationers coming from state prison? &%F0

JENKINS: Well, I can tell you that -- two points. One of the things that Margaret failed to mention is that when the secretary did comply with that plan, he did so under protest. And actually the state is also arguing that they obviated the need to reduce the population to 137.5% of design capacity because that's an argument that the conditions that led to that are no longer present. But to your question, if releases go forward, if it does happen to go forward, San Diego's region could be impacted by as many as 600 inmates coming to the region which would certainly impact the systems that we put in place to implement realignment to date. There has not been any discussion about additional support for those 600 inmates who would be early release. It's not as realignment was original envisioned when there was no early release. They were coming out at their expected release dates. So it absolutely would be an impact. One of the conversations the probation chiefs have been having with the CD.C. R, those inmates would go under parole supervision and not probation supervision, but they would still be in the community. It absolutely would impact the criminal justice system.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. They'd be overseen by the state and not necessarily by the county is what you're saying.

JENKINS: Yes, that's what we would hope.

CAVANAUGH: Let me talk if I may about the alternative plan that's proposed by Senate president pro tem Darryl Steinberg. Under this plan as I understand it, the state would stop fighting the original lawsuit that led to the Court mandated inmate reduction. And in that, they would negotiate a 3-year plan to reduce the prison population. Margaret, do you think that would be a fair solution?

DOOLEY-SAMMULI: It is time for the litigation to end. You can't legislate that. What Senator Steinberg has introduced in legislation is a proposal to create an advisory sentencing commission and a program to provide counties with incentives to reduce the number of people that are being sent to state prison, to actually prevent crime in the first place. These have the potential to have the kind of lasting long-term impact that we believe, the Court believes, and that Californians believe we need. However, it's not sufficient. The system does need to be looking still at those -- the programs that it told the Court that it would in terms of evaluating inmates for parole as well as recognizing with earned credit those inmates that have participated in rehabilitation. So it is absolutely something we support in concept because it looks at lasting solutions, but this problem is complicated, and we need to have both short term needs addressed as well as prevent future increases in the prison population in the best way possible, and is that by preventing and reducing crime in the first place.

CAVANAUGH: Mack Jenkins, are the Steinberg plan, it was just approved by a Senate committee. It's got a lock way to go in the state legislature. State counties would get $200 million to increase drug treatment and other programs. Do you think the probation officers would be able to support a plan like that?

JENKINS: The questions around seniority Steinberg's plan, we don't know what it would cost. We don't know what would be the provisions for the agreement to settle the litigation with the plaintiffs. That's not no doubt. And another point that is of concern to probation chiefs, and we certainly credit Senator Steinberg for his innovation, and he's been a strong supporter of probation, but the money he's talking about, are the $200 million do not come to probation. Unlike the SB678 funds which have had success in reducing the prison population and improving outcomes for high-risk probationers go directly to Probation Departments who build infrastructure and provide services for the population. The money in Steinberg's proposal don't come to us. They come to the Board of Supervisors. So that at least will involve some additional negotiations and conversations to see what percentage of those funds actually get to the intended sources, and there are no plans for measurement in the $200 million that Senator Steinberg is talking about. In 678, part of the plan was to measure the successful outcomes. So those are some of the unanswered questions that the probation chiefs have with Senator Steinberg's plan.

CAVANAUGH: Wrapping up this conversation, which is very complicated, I'm wondering if we can go back for a moment to realignment. And the fact that the San Diego County probation office has been tested and expanded because you've had to see more offenders remaining in San Diego County. Would you say realignment is a success so far in San Diego, Mack?

JENKINS: I don't want to use the word success. We're two years into -- not even two years. October will be two years into one of the most comprehensive, the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in the State of California's history. Along with our partner, the District Attorney, the sheriff's department, and local law enforcement, we've risen to the challenge. Our focus is community safety and trying to match the offenders and the services to reduce recidivism. The offenders who have been sentenced locally and have been coming to the sheriff's jail, they are serving part of their sentence in jail and finishing in the community. We feel good about our effort. There's more work to be done. We're relying on the strong criminal justice collaboration and our relationship with community providers to focus again on community safety and try to improve the outcomes of the offenders we're working with.

CAVANAUGH: We have to leave it there. I'm out of time. Thank you both very much.

DOOLEY-SAMMULI: Thank you.

JENKINS: Thank you for having me.