Orange County supervisors blocked a crime data report from being sent to state officials, claiming much of it is based on a misleading statistical standard used by Sacramento to shift prisoner parole and probation responsibilities to counties.
As it has in past years, a county panel led by Chief Probation Officer Steve Sentman prepared the annual report on Orange County’s efforts to prevent people convicted of crimes from re-offending. The report included statistics about the portion of released prisoners who re-offend each year, known as recidivism, and showed an overall drop in re-offending in recent years.
Nearly all California counties submit the voluntary reports to the Board of State and Community Corrections, which compiles the data into an annual public report to the governor and state Legislature.
But county Supervisor Todd Spitzer has intensely disputed the state’s standardized definition for recidivism, which he says paints a falsely positive picture amid rising crime rates.
“It is a complete fiction, and it’s a fraud on the public, that a new conviction is what is now the test in California on recidivism,” Spitzer said last Tuesday when the report came before county supervisors. He has said recidivism should be defined by new arrests, whether or not they lead to a conviction.
If the county sends its report using the state’s convictions definition, he said, “we become part of the propaganda from Sacramento that wants to continue to shove these things down our throat.”
“We know that property crime is off the charts in Orange County. Crime’s up 20 percent,” he added.
But the county’s top probation officer said the county has been largely successful in reducing re-offending, and that he’s not aware of any studies proving a link between crime increases and the prisoner realignment law, known as AB 109, or the other voter-approved measures that some in law enforcement have blamed for crime increases.
“There is no research that I have seen, or stats, to prove that crime is up – whichever…crime that you’re looking at – is up because of AB 109, Prop 47, Prop 57,” Sentman told the board.
Supervisors voted unanimously to order the Probation Department not to send the report to Sacramento.
The state definition, adopted in 2014, defines recidivism as “conviction of a new felony or misdemeanor committed within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction.”
Spitzer disputed it at the time, saying it “will incorrectly portray AB 109 as ‘working’ when in reality many AB 109 criminals are on probation and re-offending.”
Spitzer is a likely candidate for Orange County District Attorney next year. Many law enforcement figures oppose or are critical of the changes brought by AB 109 including Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
According to the county data that wasn’t sent to the state, since prisoner realignment began in 2011 the percentage of former inmates convicted of a crime within a year of release dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent.
Supervisor Andrew Do, a former prosecutor in the DA’s office, agreed with Spitzer, saying the state’s recidivism definition creates a “misleading” picture to the public.
“Do we want to continue to contribute to that picture that’s trying to be painted by Sacramento? And I agree with Supervisor Spitzer, we should not,” unless funding is at risk, Do said.
But Supervisor Lisa Bartlett disputed Spitzer’s suggestion that rising crime rates are linked to the state’s shift of prisoner responsibilities to the local level, known as realignment.
In talking with sheriff’s deputies, Bartlett said, many of those who are subject to realignment are showing up to their required meetings.
The former prisoners “are trying to get their lives back together again, to a great extent,” Bartlett said.
The probation chief agreed.
“I believe we are relatively successful in working with the offenders we have,” Sentman said.
Out of 382 offenders from July to December of last year, he said 316 “had no new law offenses. And when you look at public safety, that’s clearly the intention – is to get these individuals to…have productive lives.”
Orange County appears to be the only large county in California to withhold the data.
“There have been instances when Alpine and Sierra counties haven’t reported, and we footnoted that in our annual report…But those are rare,” said Tracie Cone, a spokeswoman for the state board.
Alpine and Sierra are the state’s two smallest counties, with populations of 1,110 and 3,100, respectively. Orange County is home to 3.2 million people.
By not submitting the report, the county may lose $200,000 in compensation for preparing it.
“For the counties’ trouble, they receive payment for this effort,” Cone wrote. “For a large county such as Orange, that amount is $200,000.”
A spokesman for the California Department of Finance, which authorizes, the payments, didn’t have an immediate answer Monday as to whether the county would receive the money.
The report, meanwhile, was already posted online by the county, as an agenda attachment for last week’s meeting, and state officials can simply download it.
“I’m not sure what the cute game is,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “Anyone that wants to go on the county’s website can get this document right now.”
Despite his critique, Nelson voted with the rest of the supervisors not to send the report.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.