Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - December 2, 2011

As state prisoners move to Santa Rita Jail, more state funding needs to follow

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has unanimously passed the Public Safety Realignment Implementation Plan presented by the county's Community Corrections Partnership (CCP). The plan, necessitated by the state's new law that shifts responsibility for lower level felony offenders from the state to the counties, is both innovative and progressive in seeking to ensure public safety, reduce recidivism and promote community-based alternatives to incarceration.

In recommending approval of the plan, Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes Pleasanton, praised the Alameda County partnership for crafting an ambitious plan to address the needs of the distinct new populations to be served under realignment -- those released from state prison to community supervision and now to be held at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. The new law also affects those who previously would have been sent to state prison upon conviction for specified crimes, as well as a majority of parole violators.

The Alameda County plan emphasizes the strategic use of resources and programming to provide targeted services to the larger jail population based on an individualized assessment of risks and needs. Local authorities emphasized that the county has the right combination of supervision, services, support and opportunities in this plan to make it successful.

To ensure that success, the county's CCP executive committee includes top-ranked law enforcement, legal and public support individuals. They are Alameda County's Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad as the chairman, Sheriff Greg Ahern, District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, Public Defender Diane Bellas, Presiding Judge Jon Rolefson, Alameda Police Chief Michael Noonan and Health Care Services Director Alex Briscoe.

This plan reflects strong collaboration within the partnership and includes several innovative features that will protect public safety and mitigate the impacts of realignment on our community. These include a coordinated, inter-agency focus on employment and the establishment of a Transition Center at the Santa Rita Jail, which will be co-staffed by the county's Probation Department and its Health Care and Social Services agencies. Those will serve as a critical bridge between the custody and community settings.

Sheriff Ahern said his office is looking forward to working in collaboration with county agencies and community-based organizations to ensure the success of this plan. He believes the new realignment will offer a wide variety of services to those entrusted to the county's care and affords us the opportunity to expand on existing programs to help these troubled individuals.

In addition to managing a new criminal justice population, Alameda County has the extra challenge of doing so with far fewer resources than most other similar-sized counties. The state's funding allocation formula for realignment puts the county at a disadvantage due to its successful history of keeping most lower-level offenders at the local level, which this new legislation now seeks to do statewide. An example is that though Alameda and San Bernardino counties have nearly the same crime rate, Alameda County will receive $16 million less than San Bernardino in the first year of realignment funding, due to the formula's heavy emphasis on pre-realignment state prison remittance rates.

To its credit, the county board and its Community Corrections Partnership have designed a tremendous implementation plan, even though they are receiving an unfairly low allocation from the state. Legislators and the governor need to re-examine the funding formula and possibly increase Alameda County's allocation amount to ensure the residents here that they are receiving the services and public safety protections needed to make the realignment program a success.

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