Spitzer: Reassess Prisoner Programs to Reduce Jail Population

As local jails absorb a wave of new inmates, a top county official is calling for a re-examination of efforts to lower the county’s jail population.

“I really think that we should take a comprehensive look at all of these programs,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at Tuesday’s meeting of county supervisors.

He called for an informal workshop on the issue at the Community Corrections Partnership, a county panel that recommends programs to fund with a pot of state-provided money for the extra prisoner responsibilities.

“I would appreciate that discussion occurring, so we could lay out for the board a long-term approach for dealing with overcrowding and what options are available that make sense,” added Spitzer, who also sits on the corrections panel.

His remarks came during a discussion of the county’s home detention program, in which people incarcerated for misdemeanors may serve the end of their sentence in a form of house arrest while wearing GPS location trackers.

Supervisors ultimately voted 3-2 to re-approve the rules for their home detention program, to direct the corrections partnership to review them and to report back with any suggested changes.

Spitzer and Supervisor John Moorlach opposed, with Spitzer taking issue with some of the rules’ language.

The GPS tracking contract with Satellite Tracking of People was also renewed on a 4-1 vote, with Spitzer opposing. The company is set to be paid up to $520,000 over the next year to monitor as many as 300 people at once.

Orange County is grappling with hundreds of extra jail inmates in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ordering the state to cut its prison population amid severe overcrowding.

With local jails now becoming tight on space, county officials have turned to programs like home detention.

Among its provisions, home detention allows people, subject to the approval of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, to leave their home to apply for jobs, go to work or get medical help.

The sheriff is also allowed to let detainees attend psychological counseling, educational classes or vocational training.

Spitzer took issue with those provisions, saying people on home detention should not be allowed to leave nor have access to the Internet.

“If it’s home confinement, it should be home confinement,” he said.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens felt differently.

She said that allowing detainees to work is important for reducing their chance of committing crimes again.

“This is part of reducing recidivism,” Hutchens told supervisors, adding that at some point the confined people won’t be on home monitoring.

“I think it would be wise of us” to allow people to continue at their jobs, she said.

Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson pointed out another potential benefit.

“Perhaps that would keep the rest of their family from ending up in a different county program,” Nelson said.

Under the home detention program, inmates being held for misdemeanors are given an option to serve the “tail end” of their sentence at home, Hutchens said. “They’re technically still in custody,” she added.

“These are tools for me to use to manage that jail population and balance the ability to keep people in custody and not overcrowd our jails and subject this county” to a lawsuit like the state experienced, Hutchens told supervisors.

Supervisors recently rejected a request by Hutchens to expand the home detention program to inmates who were convicted of nonviolent felonies and had limited criminal records.

On Tuesday, Spitzer also publicly took issue with the staff report's simply listing penal code sections without explaining what they mean, something Spitzer said Giancola had previously agreed to change.

“You literally could not understand this agenda item” without looking up the penal code sections’ meanings, Spitzer said.

Giancola replied that he’ll make sure that future staff reports explain the meanings. “This one got by,” Giancola said.

Spitzer also questioned a provision of the rules on searches and seizures, saying it could conflict with court orders.

Amid the influx of inmates, sheriff’s officials are also considering reducing their contract to hold federal immigration detainees, which currently requires the county to house between 500 and 838 people.

The state’s shifting of responsibilities, known as prisoner realignment or Assembly Bill 109, is forcing counties across California to devise more cost-effective approaches to criminal justice.

Many of those approaches have been profiled by the California State Association of Counties, which produced a series of videos on various counties’ efforts.

“Smart justice” programs, CSAC says, center on “evidence-based practices that identify individual offender's risk factors and providing services, treatment and other resources to help reduce the risk of reoffending.”

A recent UC Irvine forum also highlighted a series of programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

Under realignment, each county is given money for their extra prisoner obligations.

Orange County’s share is $67 million this year, according to the county’s latest realignment report.

It’s unclear in the report how much of the funding is going toward recidivism reduction programs.

The plan is created by the Community Corrections Partnership, whose executive committee is empowered as voting members.

That executive committee comprises Chief Probation Officer Steve Sentman, Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Health Care Agency Deputy Director Mary Hale, Public Defender Frank Ospino and Garden Grove Police Chief Kevin Raney.

The next Community Corrections Partnership meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 27 at the Probation Department’s Grand Avenue office, 1001 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana.

Closer to the meeting, the agenda should be available here.

Please contact Nick Gerda directly at ngerda@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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