Why Did Andrew Do Reject a Popular Crime Prevention Program?

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

County Supervisor Andrew Do at a supervisors meeting.

It is a vicious – and expensive – cycle.

An individual is released from jail and ordered to report to drug treatment or mental health counseling. But then for a variety of preventable reasons – like problems with complicated paperwork or lack of a current driver’s license – he or she misses deadlines and appointments and ends up getting sent back to jail.

This is not only bad for the individual but bad for society, according to those who work in the criminal justice system – from prosecutors to public defenders and probation officers. Everyone wastes time chasing after technicalities that take time away from more important crime prevention issues, they say.

So with hopes of improving this dynamic, a coalition of top Orange County law enforcement officials and public defenders brought a proposal to the county Board of Supervisors.

Based on widely-supported efforts in Kentucky and San Francisco, they recommended a pilot program that would bring social workers into the public defender’s office to help people succeed after serving their sentences.

The four social workers would help Orange County clients navigate complicated systems to obtain drug and alcohol treatment, behavioral health care, and help finding housing and jobs. Their work would be funded by state money stemming from the AB 109 prisoner realignment law.

Results from the Kentucky and San Francisco programs show they have greatly reduced the chances of people re-offending and produced savings that far exceed the programs’ cost.

The proposal before supervisors arrived with recommendations from Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Probation Chief Steve Sentman, and Public Defender Sharon Petrosino – who all gave their thumbs up back in June.

But when it came up for supervisors’ approval last Tuesday, the effort was shot down by Supervisor Andrew Do, who argued at length against the program.

Do cited concerns like a potential conflict between social workers and probation officers, with social workers learning information that could be “at odds” with what probation officers know. Such disputes could end up in court, he argued.

“In theory I kind of see the idea, but I don’t see in implementation how that’s going to work and how we can avoid the kind of conflict that I just alluded to,” said Do, who used to work as a public defender and later as a prosecutor.

However, those who’ve run the program elsewhere say that concern is unfounded.

“There have never been any problems from our perspective in this area,” said Simin Shamji, the deputy public defender who directs San Francisco’s social worker program, which has been around for over a decade.

“The social workers are agents of the Public Defender and must abide by the attorney-client privilege. As such, our social workers would not be put in the position of having to testify against the interests of their client.”

Do didn’t return a phone message asking if he has any evidence of his concerns materializing in the other jurisdictions that have implemented such social worker programs.

Another concern he expressed was about “enlarging” the public defender’s scope of work – despite the successes elsewhere and likely savings to taxpayers overall.

The county’s probation chief responded to Do by politely, but persistently, argued for the program. “Any assistance to a probation officer to help offenders mitigate potential technical violations, we can use it,” Sentman said at the meeting.

The probation department has an “outstanding” working relationship with the public defender’s office, he said, adding that it “is an obligation of the chief probation officer to at least try” the program, while being aware of Do’s concerns.

Do pushed back.

“I have a real problem” with that, Do said, before suggesting there was a lack of “metrics” to measure the program’s effectiveness.

Yet Do did not mention that Cal State Fullerton researchers have agreed to “measure the reduction in recidivism due to the” program, according to the county staff documents provided to him for that meeting.

While supervisors often talk through their concerns with department heads before proposals come up for a vote, Do apparently took them by surprise.

Sentman’s responses suggested that Do hadn’t brought up his top concerns in the five months since the proposal was recommended by the law enforcement and public defender leaders, instead waiting until the item was up for approval to object to it.

Do ultimately called for sending the proposal back to the law enforcement and public defender officials for an unspecified amount of time before it comes before supervisors again.

Supervisors’ chairwoman Lisa Bartlett gently tried to get Do’s support to sign off on the item.

She suggested approving the program and then having Do work with fellow Supervisor Todd Spitzer on the “logistics” of it, to address his concerns.

Do instead motioned to delay the item, without a specific date for it to return. The other four board members – Spitzer, Bartlett, Shawn Nelson, and Michelle Steel – joined him, apparently deferring to Do’s strong objections.

“You’re absolutely right to point out it could create all kinds of havoc,” Spitzer told Do.

Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, remain supportive of the social worker proposal.

“The program is a great opportunity to pool resources and funding in the effort to decrease recidivism,” said Lt. Mark Stichter, a spokesman for Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

Kentucky’s program has been so successful that it received an award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2013 for “excellence and innovation in governance and public policy.”

And a study of the San Francisco social worker program found that it produced savings of $1 million from just 66 randomly-selected clients. Orange County’s program would serve as many as 50 clients per month.

“Our clients’ legal problems are often the symptoms of larger social issues — drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness, unemployment,” Shamji told Voice of OC earlier this year. “This not only saves the city and state millions of dollars; it ultimately saves lives.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Be fair to Do. The County Social Workers had to pay a ten million dollar judgement for unethical and inexcusable conduct of workers who are still working, and who are, in fact, training supervisors. Plus, SSA has been engaged in some shady conduct lately, possibly rigging their computer system in order to launder money for illegal campaign donations from criminal nursing home owners, some of whom have links to organized crime. Janet Nguyen had her million dollar slush fund that mysteriously disappeared when she moved on up to the capital, and Do was her right hand man. Whether Do is up to something, or whether he is in the know of some underhanded stuff going on, either way, he is privy to some information that most people do not have. Pieces of info previously ignored is timely here, and it is wise for Do to be very leery of the Social Workers, and their management cabal. I know I would be.

  • David Zenger

    It is good to see Supervisor Do so concerned with “metrics” ‘n stuff like that. Hopefully we will start to see this level of concern with performance analysis on ALL the items that come before him. That would really be refreshing.

    • LFOldTimer

      San Francisco and Kentucky have already proven that the “metrics” actually work.

      Campaign donations displace “metrics”. Like paper covers rock.

      The other supes bought the “metric” excuse even though it makes no sense.

      What you don’t see are the invisible strings that pull.

  • LFOldTimer

    Where does Rusty Kennedy stand on this issue? I didn’t see his name mentioned.

    It would seem that if anyone should promote free programs to help the disadvantaged (ie. inmates exiting prison) it should be Rusty Kennedy, the Director of OC Human Relations.

    Oh, he works at the pleasure of the BoS, doesn’t he? Ooops. I forgot.

    • David Zenger

      I’m still waiting for Rusty to comment on the Kelly Thomas killing. Other than the “the cops just need more training” or “if only we had a homeless shelter.”

      • LFOldTimer

        Six 200 pound cops jumping on a 135 pound schizophrenic and beating him to death wasn’t the problem.

        The fact that Kelly had no home contributed 100% to his death.

        More “metric” and human relations logic for ya from the county brainchildren.

  • David Zenger

    Maybe the Deputy Sheriff union opposes it.

    • LFOldTimer

      And w/ $86,000 campaign donations AOCDS carries a big stick.

      Notice how the others were for it before joining Do and burying it?

      Kabuki Theater at it’s very finest.

      • David Zenger

        It’s pretty odd, as Nick points out. Stuff almost never even gets on the agenda unless the CEO knows there’s a majority going for it.

        My guess is the other four sniffed out a possible gas leak as Do rambled on, then they chickened out.

        So who has that sort of pull?

        • Paul Lucas

          deputies who need inmates to secure their overtime.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Choosing few over the greater good is so unsustainable and costly. These unions have to stop being so self serving, especially if they are civil servants. Neighborhoods suffer. When they released these Prop 74, 47, whatever it is, jailed people, our neighborhood had as many incidents in one month as we have had in 15 years! Because no work, they steal. LEO Unions? Any comment on this? What say you? The People of OC really wanna know.

          • LFOldTimer

            We’re doing something very wrong in America when we have the highest per-capita prison population of any one of the hundreds of nations (1st and 3rd world) on the globe short of Seychelles – a barbaric country in Africa.

            If you need verification of this claim go google “Global Prison Populations” and look at the Wikileak statistics.

            Maybe if we didn’t pay prison guards like they were small molecular particle physicists with Ph.D’s we could turn the ship around. The CA prison system is a billion dollar business. And more criminals begets the need for more lawyers, judges, cops, probation officers, guards, rehab specialists, etc…

            Reduce the criminals and you are threatening the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people with high-paid gravy jobs. And the money flows from these special interest groups to the politicians who enact the laws that form our justice system.

            Criminality and war fuel the American economy.

          • Jacki Livingston

            I don’t mind paying prison guards well. That job is ugly and tough. I resent the hell out of paying Sheriff deputies to sit on a computer playing solitaire, or going by the homes of employees, or former employees, to tell them to shut up about corruption. I wonder how much overtime Toddy Spitz had to pay those two tattooed deputies to come to my house and explain to me how I would be so much safer if I just kept my mouth shut.

          • LFOldTimer

            A tree pruner’s job is ugly and tough. But they only make about $10.hr.

            A ditch digger’s job is ugly and tough. Another $10.hr job.

            A roofer has a back breaking job. Really tough and ugly. Minimum wage. No pension.

            A prison guard only needs a HS education. Why should he or she get paid like a Ph.d?

            They never used to get paid like Ph.d’s until the public unions hijacked the government compensation system in a ‘pay to play’ scheme with the pols.

          • Jacki Livingston

            They deal with really dangerous and depraved people. It is way more dangerous than those jobs. They deserve to be paid well, but not ridiculously. I am sure it is high stress.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Amen. They make backroom deals to punish union leaders who get too rough with management, and deliberately back the most inept officers, so nothing gets done to protect employees. It is a disgrace. Many employees have begged for the right to opt out of union membership, I know I did.