California Attorney General Launches Initiative To Reduce Recidivism
November 25, 2013 1:54 p.m.
Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County district attorney
ALISON ST. JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. So today on Midday Edition keeping people out of jail. When California decided to solve its prison overcrowding problem by passing prisoners down to County jurisdiction the big question was will the counties be facing the same problem of overcrowded jails and one of the most obvious ways to avoid that fate is to find ways to keep people who come out of prison or jail from committing another crime and ending up back behind bars. In other words, how to break the cycle of recidivism by helping offenders to find their feet in the community. So our guest is San Diego Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis, who's here to talk about a new initiative recently launched to do just that. It is a statewide initiative launched by California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. Thank you so much for coming in.
BONNIE DUMANIS: Thank you for having me.
ALISON ST. JOHN: As many as two thirds of those freed from prison in California apparently commit another crime within three years. Now that many of those ex-prisoners are here in San Diego on probation rather than parole, is our probation department managing to keep the recidivism numbers down or are they rising up to meet the figures now?
BONNIE DUMANIS: Well it's too early to determine if it recidivism rates but one part of what the attorney general is going to do with her initiative and that is a policy issue of how to define recidivism because all the different stakeholders have different ways to do that, so we have to be on the same page so that we can tell whether or not this has indeed impacted us in any way.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So give us some of the thumbnail of what the new initiative will include.
BONNIE DUMANIS: Well it is a three-goal initiative. The new division is called recidivism reduction and reentry. So the first thing is to catalog basically best practices, which is one of the reasons why we were invited to go up to Los Angeles. San Diego is on the forefront of using best practices. It also is going to deal with technology. The Atty. Gen. Is rolling out a smart crime database that will help us track. And also local funding for district attorneys offices which is really not part of the funding that we've gotten through grants. So, those three areas are going to be our focus and she brought together DAs from other areas of the county to talk about because it's going to impact all of us.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I know magic it so that the probation department here is always talking about data-driven reforms and they've been collecting data for a long time now so what is the stated that the new initiative is going to collect that will actually add to our knowledge?
BONNIE DUMANIS: Well about half the people were coming or going into the local jail right now are those that would normally be in state prison. So we need to determine whether or not this is working. So what the data is not designed to do is to track those people that would have gone to prison, but are now going to local jail/prison or are in our communities. So it is a database that will tell us whether they've committed new crimes and whether or not, what the costs are because it really cost probably 15,000 to do rehabilitation services for one inmate. And in the state prison it's about 47,000. So we need to track that but also need to track whether or not they are committing new crimes.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I have to ask is that data that's not being collected at the moment people collecting, committing new crimes?
The data is collected without reference to whether or not it was AB109 or prisoner reentry realignment. But our office has been working on that as you know our office Sheriff Court (inaudible) chief probation officer and all of our partners worked at law enforcement work together with the public defender and the courts to make sure that we have innovative approaches which are really based on one of the programs we started in 2007, which is SB 618 and we are using that template and there we save $10 million and reduce the recidivism rate to 34%. So 64 down to 34.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I know that San Diego has always claimed that it has managed to cutto a third really the recidivism rate here in the jails, but I guess the question is whether that is something now that the population that we are seeing as the population is coming from the prisons
BONNIE DUMANIS: We have seen an increase in some of the property crimes and drug crimes but we won't be able to tell whether or not the cause of that is AB109 although to me it appears that that is probably the cause. Until we have solid figure so there's an evaluation that Sandag will be doing so we can say definitively but after just two years in the making you know we are a work in progress.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So if in fact it is determined that the figures are going up, will there be any more money because I think that's what the counties have been worried about is the status passing down this big responsibility. Are they passing down enough in the way of funding to deal with it.
BONNIE DUMANIS: They certainly are not passing down enough in funding to deal with it we've shown that. If we show them the need I think they will have to look at this so that we don't have the same issues at the state prisons we are facing by the courts ordering them to be released because of the conditions in the state prison.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So is the effort to get more data in fact part of what you see coming down the pike, which is the need to justify the more money to deal with this.
BONNIE DUMANIS: I think it is information and justification for more money if in fact there is a need. I think it is also going to give us a clearer picture of what these laws have done to our communities and if they've really impacted our committees and the public safety then I think as we already have been, we advocate for changes to fix those areas. In our office, Lisa Rodriguez has been at the forefront working to fix all the loopholes are the issues we see and we are going to continue to do that.
ALISON ST. JOHN: From what you've seen so far how is it impacting our communities?
BONNIE DUMANIS: Well anecdotally police officers are seeing more and more people commit crimes and coming in again. They are also having more resisting, you see the pursuits that happened, those kinds of things. I think we are seeing some more danger out with this more sophisticated level of person, but really what we are seeing is they are committing theft related offenses primarily to support drug habits, so the drug cases are also increasing as well.
ALISON ST. JOHN: One of the things that I've heard that made it actually more difficult for somebody coming out of jail as they don't get any kind of a stipend when they leave jail whereas when prisoners sleeping state prison are given a stipend to help them get started on their new lives. You think that is an issue?
BONNIE DUMANIS: What we have created with adjectives the chief probation officer a community transition center, the sheriff participates in that as well where they are delivered from state prison directly to the center. They get assessed for what they need to turn their lives around, whether or not they have substance-abuse issue and then they are taken to a place that they need to, whether that be a home or some type of housing and treatment is needed.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So providing free transitional housing for people who are just out of jail that sounds like a pretty expensive proposition. Harry San Diego funding that? Where is this housing?
BONNIE DUMANIS: We are using the dollars that we've received from the present realignment fund not just for the transitional housing, but also for housing as well as mental health and rehabilitation services. So we've had to use it in a variety of ways. The Sheriff is building more jails, more jails and beds because we are already seeing an increase that is overcapacity already. We also needed more probation officers and to train those probation officers and in our office and the public defender's office would also had an increase because we have a bigger role in court now because of parole hearings that are now handled locally as opposed to the state.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Right, the probation department has a lot more responsibility
BONNIE DUMANIS: Absolutely
ALISON ST. JOHN: Before we leave the jails, tell us how many jail spaces are we building at the moment?
BONNIE DUMANIS: The sheriff is building 400 beds down in Otay Mesa and those will be transitional beds basically Sheriff Gore has done a great job in making that a reentry center, basically. And other areas of the jail they are providing the resources in jail that people will need so they can turn their lives around and once they get out we are monitoring them so that we can keep a close eye on these folks so that they don't commit more crimes.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So that combined with the community transition · the probation department is running, are other counties doing that, or a San Diego perhaps ahead of the curve on providing support networks for people?
BONNIE DUMANIS: I think San Diego is ahead of the curve. Alameda is doing something the DA Nancy O'Malley, at the press corps, we also had the president of the California District attorneys Association and the Riverside DA talking about some of the things they've done and certainly the Atty. Gen. Started a program in San Francisco when she became the DA. But what we want to do is catalog and the Atty. Gen.'s new division will let everybody know about best practices because there are 50 counties doing it 50 different ways and that is part of what we want to address.
ALISON ST. JOHN: From what you're telling me it sounds like a bit like San Diego may already be doing a lot of these best practices and about the new initiative is for the rest of the state to perhaps learn.
BONNIE DUMANIS: That's right. The counties that are doing some of these things are going to supply those best practices to the attorney general's office it will be a website, hub so that other attorney general's is that we are creating template and different ways to provide these services so other counties that do not have the same collaboration or resources can do things that fit their community.
ALISON ST. JOHN: let's talk about something that some advocates say would really help to reduce recidivism which would be to reform drug sentencing laws. According to the latest legislative analyst office changing personal drug possession to a misdemeanor would save California counties hundred 60 million per year statewide. Do you support that?
BONNIE DUMANIS: Well I think that is a naïve look at it. In terms of drug laws, drugs impact other things as well. Crime gr gravitates to those people who use drugs of people who traffic in drugs so I think it needs to be looked at in the bigger scheme of things I think making certain rehabilitation mandatory might be a way to look at it but I do think we should look at making sure that the crime, the punishment fits the crime, and that is that all of the different types of drugs should be looked at for what they have for punishment because some of them are really old I think outdated laws.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Right because the advocates for this kind of measure so you could be putting their money into the front end of the cycle to drug treatment and education drug training which might mean that you would be breaking the cycle more effectively than is much more aggressive drug laws.
BONNIE DUMANIS: Well I think we need to, what the thrust of this law is to change the paradigm so the low-level offenders that have drug problems are directed to treatment and I think that is the way to deal with it. But I do think that we should have a community that has drug treatment on demand. If we could but there are many there it's just like early education if we put our money in early education we wouldn't have as many kids come to the system and become criminals.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay we have a caller on the line Monta works for toxicity facility it has a question for you want to go ahead. Thanks for calling.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for having me. I work at the county psychiatric hospital and we see a lot of discharged folks I'm sorry released from jail folks are basically are released into the street. And I'm wondering if there is a referral process for how services are extended or where could I go to get more information.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I want to thank you so much for that on the ground observation. So she's referring to the community transition center that Bonnie, you were referring to. How would she find out more about that?
BONNIE DUMANIS: First I would refer her to 211. We in cooperation with the stakeholders provided information that's on the website, or you can find a person, call person will help you with resources for reentry into the community. It's for the families as well as for the offender coming into the community. And we can get information to the psychiatric facility if they don't already have it about the transition center and it sounds like a good idea to connect probation with them and see if we can get a smoother transition for these folks.
ALISON ST. JOHN: From what Mona, Monta is saying it sounds like there are people were leaving jail without this information somehow it's not getting through to them
BONNIE DUMANIS: I think what's happening is they are being released into the programs and they leave the program before they leave where they are living and that is something we have to take a look at how we can, these are people that have high needs because they are drug addicts. And as Monta said, they have mental health issues. So we have to keep an eye on them and our law enforcement are looking at them too so mama needs to work with us on that so they don't go often commit new crimes.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And in the minute we have left we have another caller from San Diego, Alan thanks for joining us. Go ahead with your question or comment.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for having this conversation of the many millions of people here in the state of California who feel that building more jail beds and more prison beds in fact is not just the County jail where they're going to add more beds, it started in state prison where they plan to add a huge number of facilities to house more prisoners. I think we need to be spending that money differently we need to be spending for education, for health care, for job training and to make sure that our society and culture improves not by turn people away and throwing them into prison, but by having a society that values each and every member of the society and get them the help they need.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Alan thanks so much for your comment and I will give you a chance Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis to respond.
BONNIE DUMANIS: I think this is a grand experiment so before we say this is what we want to do continually, if we could reduce the recidivism level by 10%, that will save $233 million per year for California. So I think there are a lot of good ideas about this. But we have to be cautious. We have to have it evaluated and we have to have best practices and we have to make sure we don't jeopardize public safety because we do not want more victims.
ALISON ST. JOHN: This is the big question isn't it because we are seeing crime stats beginning to creep up and it's a little suspicious that this may be partly to do with it.
BONNIE DUMANIS: But we want to lock the bad guys up so there's a difference between the really bad guys and those that have low-level offenses, drug driven.
ALISON ST. JOHN: It's very encouraging to hear that there are more resources in the community. I think that with this bad job market it must be very hard for people to actually find a job but we hope as the economy improves that will help the program, two. To judge attorney money demand a city so much for joining us.
BONNIE DUMANIS: Thank you.