Department of Justice awards nearly $500,000 to DA’s alternative sentencing program

By David Hollister

Plumas County District Attorney

This past Friday, Oct. 16, Plumas County received some welcomed news when United States Attorney General William P. Barr announced the Plumas County District Attorney’s Alternative Sentencing Program (ASP) would receive a federal grant of $497,802.00 to fund a 36-month enhancement project for programs and services provided through the current Plumas County Community Justice Court (CJC). This highly competitive federal grant saw only four California counties named as recipients – Plumas, Marin, Santa Cruz and San Joaquin.

I cannot overstate how grateful I am for this award. The driving force behind our successful grant application was ASP Manager Stephanie Tanaka. Tanaka, working with Deputy District Attorney Kelly Styger and Fiscal Officer Sheri Johns,  did a phenomenal job in their first effort to secure a competitive, federal grant.

Plumas County’s grant proposal abstract described its proposal as follows: The CJC is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the ASP and a robust group of Plumas County partners to expand and sustain access to evidence-based treatment and supervision for offenders currently participating in three problem-solving court calendars. In particular, efforts by Superior Court Judges Janet Hilde and Doug Prouty, local defense attorneys Bill Abramson, Craig Osborne and Jacob Zamora, and our many criminal justice partners have provided a level of support leading to an effective approach to reduce recidivism by low-level offenders making our county a safer and healthier place. These pre-adjudication calendars include: (1) the Proposition 47 Diversion Program; (2) the AB1810 Calendar (Mental Health); and (3) the CJC (ADC). In addition to fostering the current problem-solving calendars, the ASP plans to develop and implement a new Co-occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health pre-adjudication calendar to enhance the CJC.

The caseload for each of the three calendars is currently limited to 10 participants due to funding restrictions. The goal is to increase each caseload to 25 participants, allowing the ASP to serve up to 75 individuals for the life of the grant. These relatively limited caseloads allow judges to get to know participants, ensures all participants receive the amount and duration of treatment services they need, and facilitates fidelity to evidence-based practices.

The CJC targets high-risk, high-need, non-violent offenders whose crimes are directly or indirectly motivated by alcohol and/or drug use, or by an underlying mental illness. The problem-solving calendars target adult defendants who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, including illicit drugs, and are at substantial risk for reoffending or failing to complete a less intensive disposition, such as standard probation. The minimum, maximum, and average lengths of program participation are 12, 60, and 18 months respectively.

Plumas County has one of the highest rates of opioid prescriptions per resident, but one of the lowest prescription rates of buprenorphine (used to treat opioid use disorder). This problematic combination illustrates the lack of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) options available to Plumas County residents. Much like many parts of rural America, there is some stigma in Plumas County associated with MAT, with community members opining this approach to treatment is simply trading one addiction for another. In general, the concept of harm reduction as a viable strategy to improve health outcomes and save lives, versus an abstinence-only approach, is a relatively new concept for many residents. Due to a lack of treatment options and the stigma associated with MAT, individuals addicted to opioids who seek MAT must travel out of county, usually over an hour by car, for such treatment. Often, these clients cannot afford to travel far distances and are forced to end treatment early or never even start.

After an initial assessment, participants will begin a structured program incorporating over-all life stabilization approaches. Over-all life stabilization is identified as stable housing, employment or finances; stabilized medical and mental health; medication compliance, and at least 90 days of sobriety. Length of treatment will be determined based on level of dependency, acuity of addiction, and primary reason for treatment. Adjustment of programming will be to meet the needs of participants’ individualized treatment goals and responsiveness to medication (if applicable).

Participants will attend trauma-informed substance abuse education and client centered intensive outpatient treatment addressing each individual’s mental health, substance use, and underlying trauma and/or grief by utilizing a combination of evidence-based and innovative treatments, such as: processing groups, individual mental health and/or substance abuse counseling, and family and/or couples therapy. Intensive Outpatient Treatment will include one to five mental health therapy and substance abuse counseling sessions per week; three to seven hours per week of group utilizing Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Choice Theory, Equine Therapy, Interactive Journaling, SAMSHA materials, Brainspotting, and Psychoeducation. All data will be collected and submitted into client records and updated as completed.

Statistics regarding substance abuse, particularly overdose rates, in Plumas County are staggering and have created an urgent need to enhance current drug court services to achieve the goals of continuing to reduce recidivism, substance abuse, and overdoses for as many individuals as possible. Limited financial resources in our rural county are a constant concern, which we expect to be further exacerbated by the national, state, and local public health emergencies declared based on COVID-19. Due to these budgetary constraints, the ASP would not be able to enhance and expand current drug court calendars effectively without securing this federal grant.

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