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Correctional leaders blast county officials

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

Local criminal justice officials, tasked with implementing Assembly Bill 109, blasted county leaders last week for what the officials consider to be a lack of support and unnecessary roadblocks.

“It’s a disgrace,” Superior Court Judge Ira Kaufman said. “We take two steps forward and three steps back all the time. Right now it’s just business as usual in the county. And it’s a very expensive way to do business.”

Kaufman’s comments summarized the frustration voiced by members of the Plumas County Community Corrections Partnership during its meeting Thursday, March 22, at the Plumas County Courthouse.

The group, which included the district attorney, sheriff, chief probation officer and a public defender, said the county stands to lose tens of thousands of dollars if it doesn’t take an active role and give the criminal justice system the tools it needs to succeed.

“The fact that there’s no Board of Supervisors member here, nobody from the CAO’s office, nobody from the county counsel’s office speaks volumes to me,” Kaufman said. “The CAO (Jack Ingstad) should be here telling us what he is doing, what he intends to do. He’s not here. He’s missing in action.”

The committee said Plumas County is probably in the worst shape of the state’s 58 counties when it comes to having the necessary resources to handle the inmate realignment.

In addition to having no alcohol and drug program in place, District Attorney David Hollister said administrative red tape is keeping the county from implementing an essential case management system.

The committee said the data provided by that system is critical for the county to get state funding for AB 109.

Without hard data, they said, the county could get the same amount of money, or less, than the state provided last year. They said the $250,000 is many times less than what the county needs.

“The funding is based on hard, statistical data,” Sheriff Greg Hagwood said. “We can’t submit feelings or estimates to the state.

“You’ve got to have raw data presented in an organized fashion that is accurate,” Hagwood said. “And if we can’t do that, we may not get anything. If we rely on what the state does, we’ll end up like we did last year. And their numbers were so flawed it was laughable.”

The district attorney’s office has been working on a case management system that tracks the myriad statistics associated with the inmate transfer. Hollister said his office is saving the county “more than $50,000” by developing a system in-house.

But he said the county auditor and county counsel have rejected requests for a $5,600 stipend to manage the system. He said that money actually comes from the AB 109 funding and not the county’s general fund.

“There is a dire need for this money and we are having a hard time working with the county to get this done,” Hollister said. “I wish I could tell you this is an aberration, but I don’t believe it is.

“I invited both the county counsel (Craig Settlemire) and the auditor (Shawn Montgomery) to be with us today. My idea wasn’t really to put them on the spot, but just to let them know how important this is to what we are trying to accomplish.”

The committee made a point to request that the county counsel, CAO and auditor attend the next meeting April 4.

Hollister said the $5,600 stipend request was denied because of an outdated personnel rule.

“The county’s argument was that the county felt that we did not comply completely with personnel rule 6.15 involving extra duty stipends,” Hollister said. “This personnel rule is probably 30 years old (1986). It talks about a personnel office which we don’t have anymore.”

Hagwood  shook his head.

“If it takes changing a personnel rule from 1986 to allow us to effectively do business in 2012 and beyond, then that needs to be fixed,” Hagwood said.

Kaufman said the absence of an alcohol and drug program is a glaring problem that complicates sentencing and leads to inmates re-offending. It doesn’t allow for alternative split sentences that combine jail time with drug rehabilitation programs.

The usually soft-spoken judge was loud and clear in his criticism.

“It’s just terrible,” Kaufman said. “It’s terrible — not only terrible for the citizens of the community, it’s a total waste of money. It’s impacting the sheriff’s office, the DA, probation. We can’t get anywhere. We can’t do things.

“I’ve talked to a lot of judges throughout the state. We are so far behind it’s embarrassing,” Kaufman said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to meetings and told judges we don’t have an alcohol and drug department. They just look at me like I’m a leper.”

The county shut down its state-sanctioned alcohol and drug program more than three years ago because it was considered dysfunctional.

Efforts have been under way to resurrect the program under the direction of Public Health Director Mimi Hall. However, Hall’s recent resignation was viewed as a setback by the committee. Hall was also a member of the Community Corrections Partnership.

“She has done a great job. I was very saddened to see her leave,” Kaufman said. “The county has lost a great asset. We were starting to get down the road we needed to go.

“I was hoping that with her appointment as the person in charge of A&D that we would have a global resolution in terms of providing a substance abuse program for the county, which has been missing for over three years … It is a disgrace.

“Until the county steps up to the plate and wants to provide services, the court’s hands are tied,” Kaufman said. “And unfortunately the sheriff feels the impact of that because of the impact on the jail. It’s been over three years and we should be able to solve the problem.”

Hollister said that without the ability to provide split sentences, the county jail is going to fill up faster.

“All we are doing now is warehousing people (in the jail),” Hollister said, “with the understanding that when they get out they will be provided no services, and we can expect to see them again shortly thereafter.”

Hagwood said that not having an alcohol and drug program defeats the intended purpose of AB 109.

“The fundamental reason for AB 109 was to reduce recidivism and give people the tools as the state gives us the money,” Hagwood said. “But we are just continuing down the same road we have always been on. And that flies in the face of why we have realignment.

“We are going to be on the receiving end of a lot of (state) scrutiny, and ultimately a reduction of funding.”

Kaufman agreed.

“If 57 other counties in the state of California can do it, why can’t we?” he said. “This is not rocket science.”


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