More discussion is needed before a decision is reached about the future of Plumas County’s Alternative Sentencing Program and Day Reporting Center. This also includes implementation of a new pre-filing diversion program.
Although separate votes were scheduled on the Community Corrections Partnership agenda March 15 for a pre-filing diversion program, and the transition of the DRC, nothing happened, but harsh words were exchanged.
Several choices were presented. The nearly 5-year-old program can remain where it began under the district attorney. Or it can be transferred to the probation department, where similar programs are housed throughout the state. A third alternative is to make the program a separate department.
Speaking to the CCP chair and Plumas County Probation Chief Erin Metcalf, District Attorney David Hollister said the program his staff developed might not be perfect, but it was an innovative approach at the time it was developed.
“It’s something Plumas County should be proud of,” he said.
Hollister said in his opening statement that any move or changes could result in damaging the program.
Criminal justice side
“I’m concerned,” said Doug Prouty, a public defender and CCP board member.
He said that he realizes that alternative sentencing and the DRC are a hybrid, when compared with other programs in the state. However, at the time of its inception the CCP was concerned about meeting the demands imposed under Assembly Bill 109 and the state.
AB 109 is the measure approved to relieve overburdened prisons and shift some of the overcrowding issues to California’s counties. Some funding has been provided to help counties make the necessary changes, along with some operating funds. The sheriff’s office, probation, alternative sentencing and DRC are top in receiving that funding.
“My feeling is one of the things we’ve been able to do is set up the DRC,” Prouty said. He added that the one-stop center for those chosen for the program has been so successful that other counties have sent representatives to the facility to see how it operates.
Prouty went on to say that the purpose of the programs is to help reduce recidivism – keeping individuals from returning to jail. He said that the program has been working and that if it is changed into something else that it won’t do well.
Keeping department heads
Speaking in broader terms, Bob Brunson, director of behavior health, explained that alternative sentencing and the DRC were developed at a time when both mental health and the probation department were dysfunctional.
As an example, he said that he’d discussed coming to Plumas County with colleagues from other counties and learned what a “crazy place” Plumas County is. He learned that the county could not keep a probation chief. And that struggle is notable.
Looking back, one probation chief was out on medical leave for more than a year before retiring. An interim chief served for a time before opting to join alternative sentencing. An interim chief from Nevada County served before Dan Prince was hired to fill the position. Prince left before a year passed, leaving his assistant probation chief Clint Armitage serving as interim chief. Clashes occurred in a CCP meeting when Armitage publicly lobbied to arm probation officers. This was followed by another interim chief, and then the board of supervisors hired Metcalf.
Mental health, now known as behavioral health, has also gone through its struggles. When Director John Sebold retired, he was replaced by a Sierra County applicant, and then a succession of in-house recruits. Director Peter Livingston met with derision from the CCP board, in particular the DA, because of the amount of reserve funding mental health had accumulated.
Although Livingston argued the mental health board wanted a large reserve to meet any catastrophic mental health needs, Livingston ultimately gave up his seat on the CCP to the head of the county’s alcohol and other drugs services department. Eventually, Livingston resigned as department head.
Getting things done
Both Brunson and Metcalf began their new duties eight months ago. Brunson said that both directors have had time to make their departments stronger and more operational. Behavioral health has been able to offer more services in the corrections center including a behavioral health nurse and regular counseling. Other programs are also taking shape around the county including wellness centers.
Following the CCP meeting, Brunson said that he has cleared up a number of behavioral health agencies in the state. That’s his forte.
Although Brunson said that Stephanie Tanaka is “absolutely irreplaceable” in her position as coordinator of alternative sentencing and the DRC, there are issues.
Brunson said that he is met with “push back on sharing information.” Although Brunson didn’t specifically state which agency, from the context of his remarks he meant those on the agenda.
“I did not sleep well,” Brunson explained about the turmoil he felt. Three times on the previous day (March 14), he said he was met with what he called push back “on the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.” Although he didn’t elaborate about his requests or to whom he was talking, he said he was being met with a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude.
Brunson said that one of his major concerns during his night of sleeplessness and now, is “Why isn’t this working?”
What Brunson sees as the issues are public safety and meeting the needs of those involved in criminal justice.
Changes and challenges
Responding to a question imposed by Hollister about the way the program might be shaped under probation’s lead, Metcalf said she “would like very much to keep” the DRC in place. She would like everyone to help with a smooth transition.
Prouty said that he’s concerned there isn’t any collaboration happening now. He pointed out that the probation chief has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding over drug court.
Drug court is the program that originally began under Prop. 36. It was initially intended to provide a year-long drug diversion program for those charged with drug-involved felonies. Since the inception of AB 109, the DA said that many of those charges once seen as felonies are now misdemeanors.
Prouty went on to say that what he is seeing are turf wars between different departments. He said no program or department could afford to be a silo and function on its own. He repeated that he’s concerned about what will happen.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood, also a member of the CCP board, added his concerns about changing alternative sentencing and the DRC. He said there are a lot of things that need to be discussed before he could support a shift in the program. And discussion is a good first step.
Metcalf admitted she must do her homework to really understand what needs to be done to make the program better. But that isn’t keeping her from further discussions about what the program should look like and what needs to happen.
Brunson spoke again, comparing the process to that of seeking advice from a marriage counselor. He said the process doesn’t have to be us against them. What should happen is a shift with a great deal of planning and support.
Hollister agreed, but said he was concerned about being undermined by what one group wants versus what the courts want. He also pointed out that the probation chief hasn’t signed the MOU for drug court services. “It’s not just about us, but about the people we serve,” Hollister said.
At this point, Metcalf said she wanted to see changes made by July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.
Hollister said he didn’t think they were 90 days away from an agreement.
Supervisor Lori Simpson, a member of the audience, said she didn’t understand how things could proceed. What she saw happening was members of the assembled group attacking various departments. And it’s been “going on for years and years and years,” she said.
“If we’re going to get something done, who’s going to do it,” Simpson asked.
Simpson also wanted to know that if other counties were visiting alternative sentencing and the DRC, who are they? No one has shared this information with the board of supervisors.Hollister said he took exception to Simpson’s comments. He said the CCP committee didn’t get much help from the board of supervisors in the early stages of development. He said the committee reached out to the board, but now Simpson was there “to yell at us” that we can’t get anything done.
Supervisor Michael Sanchez introduced himself as a newly elected supervisor. He said that one of his concerns under the current situation is seeing employee burnout. He indicated that there is work to be done, and, “I’m rolling up my sleeves and I want to get in there and work with you.”
No vote was taken and Metcalf said the next regular meeting of the CCP is April 19 in the supervisors’ chambers in the Plumas County Courthouse at 2 p.m.
Following the meeting Hollister said, “I have been trying to find a way to draw both probation and behavioral health into a positive, forward-moving approach to CCP and criminal justice issues.”
“Having probation refuse to join the drug court MOU, for example, has been a step backwards. It became readily apparent that any redirection of alternative sentencing would not be supported by the majority of the CCP — and rightly so,” Hollister said. “ASP and its programs, has been a real highlight of our county’s response to AB109. To destroy such a program would be shortsighted and not in the best interests of our county.”
Hollister said that he agreed with both the sheriff and public defender that the “status quo needs to remain until a better alternative is presented. …”
Although the pre-filing diversion program was on the agenda, not much attention was given to that concept.
Under AB 109 and Proposition 47, pre-filing diversion could become part of alternative sentencing. California voters passed Prop. 47 in November 2014. It reduces certain drug possession felonies to misdemeanors — as referred to under changes in how drug court is made up under Prop 36.
In the pre-filing diversion program, offenders are identified as quickly after arrest as possible through a testing or screening process. While some offenders remain in jail, others are identified as appropriate for electronic monitoring and can return home or to new housing, as appropriate.