Chapman Law Review
REFORMING ADULT FELONY PROBATION TO EASE PRISON OVERCROWDING: AN OVERVIEW OF CALIFORNIA S.B. 678
Copyright (c) 2011 Chapman Law Review; Jessica Feinstein
In 2009, California’s prison overcrowding crisis made national headlines. A panel of three federal judges ordered the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years in order to conform with constitutional requirements. Faced with the threat of releasing as many as fifty thousand offenders into the community, lawmakers and state officials rushed to devise plans that would satisfy the federal mandate, while also preserving public safety.
Yet, the specter of tens of thousands of offenders living in the community is not a future scenario, but a present-day fact. As of December 31, 2008, approximately 445,822 adults in California were under “community supervision,” serving the remainder of a state prison term on parole or having been directly sentenced to probation. Roughly three-quarters of adults serving sentences in the community — or about three times the number of offenders in California prisons at any one time — are probationers. The large number of individuals on probation is directly tied to the state prison population: felony offenders who failed probation supervision account for about forty percent of all new felony prison admissions each year, or roughly ten percent of yearly total prison admissions.
The prison crisis, accompanied by a crippling prison budget, an economic downturn, and an estimated $20 billion deficit, forced the California Legislature, after years of neglect, to turn its attention to California’s adult probation population. This extraordinary political moment opened the door for the 2009 passage of S.B. 678, the Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act (CCPIA), which provides stable funding for county probation departments to implement evidence-based community corrections programs.
This article provides a holistic examination of the CCPIA, including an overview of the current state of California’s dysfunctional adult probation system, the political maneuvering which led to the passage of S.B. 678, and the challenges facing its successful implementation. In particular, California’s own failed reform efforts, comprehensive analyses of probation in California, and other states’ probation legislation provide insight into the inadequacies of California’s adult probation system and how the CCPIA seeks to address these inadequacies.
Part I of this article discusses adult probation as it currently exists in California, including the demographics, governance structure, and funding apparatus. Part II details California’s prior attempts to fix adult probation, best practices as they are currently recognized, as well as new legislation conforming to those best practices in Arizona and Kansas. Part III explores the legislative history of California’s S.B. 678 and explicates the provisions included in the new CCPIA. Finally, Part IV looks at the next steps for the CCPIA, including a discussion of the logistics of how various counties are implementing the act, and potential challenges that the CCPIA faces going forward. While the CCPIA could successfully realign the formerly adverse incentives that the decentralized probation system has created, implementation poses significant challenges for the translation of theory into practice. Should implementation prove successful, the CCPIA will mark a significant shift in how California uses adult probation–from an under-resourced catch-all for repeat offenders, to a front-end partner in the justice system.
I. Probation in California
In its current state, adult probation in California is a broken system. The dismal condition of probation is not a new phenomenon. For years, county probation departments have struggled with piecemeal funding and decentralized standards and resources. Reports cataloguing the shortcomings of the probation system–if in fact it can be called a “system” at all, since that implies unified structure and central management–and calling for reform have appeared with some regularity since 1990. These reports and a failed legislative attempt at reform in 1994 will be discussed in greater detail in Part III. However, for a brief summary of the current quality of California’s probation services, it is enough to quote the 2003 Final Report of the Probation Services Task Force: “[T]he status quo in the probation system is not acceptable. . . . [T]he probation structure as it exists today functions poorly on many levels.”
The rate of adult felony probationers in California who fail to successfully complete their probation terms is high. Most of these felony “probation failures” are then sent to state prison as a result of new felony convictions or violations of the terms of their probation. The Legislative Analyst’s Office reported in 2009 that adult felony probationers are revoked to state prison at a statewide average rate of about 7.5%; revocation to prison is as high as 12-16% in some counties, and the overall level of revocation of adult probationers (to jail and prison) is likely even higher. These probation failures are thus incredibly costly for the state. California’s state prison system, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), estimates that each failed probationer sentenced to state prison will serve 8.6 months there. With the estimated average annual cost of incarcerating a state prisoner at $49,000, each failed probationer revoked to prison costs California an average of $35,116.
California’s high rate of probation failure and generally dysfunctional adult probation system may be traced to two primary problems. First, and most significantly, a lack of stable and adequate funding for county probation departments creates overburdened caseloads for probation officers. This in turn contributes to a low level of supervision for many serious offenders as well as a lack of programming, such as treatment and job training, which can help offenders successfully complete their probation terms. Inadequate funding also creates adverse incentives for probation departments and courts to keep probationers in the community rather than send them to state prison. Second, California’s decentralized probation system leads to a dearth of unified standards and goals for probation departments to follow. As a result, some probation departments in California have fallen behind the curve in regard to best practices.
A. California’s Adult Probation Population
The challenges facing California’s probation departments are rooted in the population and composition of probationers themselves. Probation is the most frequently imposed form of criminal sentence in California, and is not limited to the least serious offenders. Estimates of the state’s adult probation population range from roughly 325,000 to 350,000. This places California as third, after Texas and Georgia, for the highest number of adult probationers in the United States. The majority of these probationers are felony offenders. Roughly three-quarters of adult probationers in California, or 270,000 adults, are felony convicts. Mirroring national data, probationers are overwhelmingly sentenced for drug and property offenses. In 2007, forty-one percent of adult probationers in California were serving sentences for drug crimes, and twenty-three percent for property crimes. Although data regarding the criminogenic makeup of this population is scant, national studies indicate that probationers have high rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and unemployment–all factors which correlate to criminal activity.
In addition to a large and needy population, California’s probation departments have struggled to keep pace with the changing demographics of probationers. Over the past fifteen years, the United States has experienced a rapid growth in the population of adults on probation, and California is no exception. From 1991 to 1999, the state’s total adult probation population increased seven percent; from 1997 to 2007 it increased fifteen percent. The number of new probation sentences entered each year more than doubled over the last decade, from 15,788 in 1999 to 35,684 in 2008. Significantly, this increase in the number of adult probationers includes a shift in the underlying offenses from less serious to more serious. In fact, the number of misdemeanor probationers decreased by fifteen percent over the last decade. The rise in the total probation population is thus due to a two-decade-long increase in the number of felony probationers. In 1996, the California Research Bureau reported an increasing backlog of sentenced felons resulting in an increase in probation referrals. This phenomenon is born out in the data: from 1990 to 1999, the number of felony probationers nearly doubled, from 130,000 to 245,000, and then grew by approximately 50,000 more over the next ten years. Thus, not only are probation departments dealing with a significantly larger population than they were ten or twenty years ago, but also a more risky population requiring more supervision. This “clearly has placed different and more intensive service demands on probation departments.”
Unfortunately, probation departments have not been able to keep pace. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that the rate at which California’s probationers successfully complete their probation terms is lower than the national average by ten percent. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2008, of the 199,528 “exit” from probation in California, only 87,246 were “completions.” This means that less than half of adults removed from probation successfully completed their terms, while the rest lost probation status due to failure. A probationer “fails” probation when he has his probation status revoked due to a technical violation, like failing a drug test, or he is convicted for a new crime. Of those who fail each year, a significant portion–somewhere from 14,532 to an upward estimate of 20,000 — winds up in state prison.
B. Structure, Governance, and Practices
Despite the size and complexity of California’s probation population, there is little centralized state oversight. The general statute governing probation in California is Penal Code section1203, which defines probation as “the suspension of the imposition or execution of a sentence and the order of conditional and revocable release in the community under supervision of a probation officer.” Other than this provision, there exists relatively scant statutory language detailing the structure or governance of probation departments, leaving counties to adopt most of their own practices, unhindered by state oversight.
California’s placement of primary responsibility for probation in the hands of counties, rather than the state, is unique. California is the “only state in the nation to follow a strictly local operational model” for probation. The state has fifty-eight independent probation departments, one for each of the fifty-eight counties. In each county, one Chief Probation Officer oversees and supervises the department, and appoints deputy probation officers and other staff. In most counties, the Chief Probation Officer is in turn appointed by the superior court, and the local executive branch controls the management and finances of probation.
Probation departments perform a diverse array of roles for the community. Probation not only “supervises” probationers–a task which itself includes varying responsibilities, from support to drug testing to enforcement–but also refers probationers to programs, investigates crimes, oversees payment of court fines, and manages custody facilities and electronic monitoring systems. Probation thus assumes the difficult but important task of “link[ing] the system’s many diverse stakeholders, including law enforcement; the courts; prosecutors; defense attorneys; community-based organizations; mental health, drug and alcohol, and other services providers; the community; the victim; and the probationer.” The multitude of probation’s roles and partnerships, combined with the decentralization of probation in California and the diverse populations in counties, multiplies inconsistencies among probation departments as to procedures used and programs available.
As a result, while some probation departments proceed largely in keeping with current best practices, others are far behind. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), after conducting a study of thirty-one counties, noted that “many probation departments do not follow all of the best probation practices identified in research.” For example, the LAO found that only eighty percent of surveyed counties use an evidence-based risk and needs assessment to evaluate at least some segments of probationers. In addition, risk/needs assessments are not widely used among the counties to make sentencing recommendations in pre-sentence reports or in the process of prioritizing which probationers ought to receive intensive rehabilitation. Even assuming departments identify the probationers best positioned to benefit from rehabilitation, some counties lack rehabilitation programs that are open to probationers, while other counties’ rehabilitation programs “suffer from having limited capacity, few available locations, and questionable quality.” Finally, evaluating the efficacy of probation departments’ programs becomes challenging or impossible due to varied data tracking systems. While several counties, such as San Francisco, have begun to use electronic systems to track data such as probation revocation rates, other counties still rely on paper, making compilations of data impossible to create or evaluate. Many probation departments surveyed could not inform the LAO of how many probationers were participating in rehabilitation programs; and less than half of the responding counties were able to report the number of probation violations in a year.
The only factor most counties have in common is the excessive caseloads adult-probation officers juggle. The rising numbers of probationers and lack of funding directly contribute to this phenomenon. For California’s estimated 270,000 adult probationers, there are only about 3,000 sworn adult probation officers supervising them. The American Probation and Parole Association recommends fifty cases per officer and twenty cases for specialized caseloads. While these targets are idealistic, they are not realistic because caseloads in California far exceed that–each officer oversees an average of one hundred to two hundred cases, with specialized caseloads averaging around seventy.
High caseloads translate to less supervision for adult probationers, particularly those not assigned to special oversight. Most departments have “banked” caseloads, which receive little or virtually no supervision. According to the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), approximately fifty-two percent of all probationers in California are on banked caseloads. The low level of supervision for banked cases results in a problematic pattern: a probationer will build up repeated violations without sanctions, and will escalate his criminal behavior until he reaches a tipping point where a violation will result in a jail or prison term. CPOC explains that banked caseloads mean “there is little opportunity to intervene in the offenders[’] course of current criminal behavior.” Given that experts acknowledge that recidivism rates are high for felony probationers with minimal supervision, it is unsurprising that California’s failure rate is so high.
C. Funding and Adverse Incentives
Lack of adequate funds for adult probation is the primary cause of California’s probation woes. Probation departments “do not enjoy a stable, reliable funding base,” and instead subsist on a “patchwork” financial structure that leaves adult probation services badly under-resourced. Compared with the money spent on prison, and even parole–both of which are state-run–funds devoted to probation are meager at best. It costs the state about $1,250 per year to maintain an offender on probation, three times that amount–$4,500 per year–to maintain an offender on parole, and forty times that amount to incarcerate a prisoner.
As with management, the funding model for probation is local, and therein lies a portion of the problem. Prior to the implementation of S.B. 678 in 2009, counties supplied two-thirds of probation funding; one-quarter of funding came from the state; and departments obtained the rest of their budget from federal grants and various court fees. California is once more an outlier in this respect–only one other state in the nation relies on local government as its primary source of funding for probation.
Although in 2009 California supplied one-quarter of its probation funds, it is important to emphasize that prior to the passage of S.B. 678, the state provided no stable, ongoing funding for adult probation services. Proposition 172, a half-cent statewide sales tax for local public safety departments, contributes some funds for probation; and in 2007 and 2008, the state also gave $10 million in one-time grants to improve probation supervision and services for adults ages eighteen to twenty-five. But other than these one-time grants, most state money goes to juvenile probation programs. In the mid-1990s, the Juvenile Crime Enforcement and Accountability Challenge Grant Program and the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act began funneling state resources to those under age eighteen. This resulted in a “somewhat overbalanced emphasis on juvenile services,” meaning that “the limited number of remaining staff and resources is often sorely insufficient to properly supervise the adult probation population.” Insufficient numbers of probation officers overseeing adults, lack of programs and resources availability, large banked caseloads, and low supervision directly follow from lack of funds.
This dearth of funds for adult probation, in conjunction with inadequate supervision and resources, creates an incentive structure adverse to keeping probationers in the community. Probation officers are incentivized to recommend incarceration rather than probation since the state must then bear the financial burden of that offender; moreover, sending a probationer to prison is one less case for their already overburdened loads. In addition, judges know there is a lack of supervision of and resources available to the felony offenders they might otherwise sentence to probation. Why keep a felony offender in the community with little oversight or opportunity when sending the offender to prison at least incapacitates him from criminal activity on someone else’s dime? Former Sacramento Superior Court Judge Roger K. Warren explained that “‘the principal reason . . . judges are sentencing too many non-violent offenders to prison is the absence of effective community corrections programs providing intermediate punishments and necessary and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation services . . . .”’ Probation departments, law enforcement, and courts worry about the headlines that could result from an unsupervised criminal on the streets. And, where resources are scarce and passing the buck is easy to do, many county actors will choose to shift the burden to the state. The Little Hoover Commission concluded that, as a result of these adverse incentives, “the State squanders its most expensive resource on low-level offenders who could be more effectively supervised by local authorities.”
II. Attempts to Fix Probation in California and Elsewhere
The problems with adult probation in California have been apparent to those familiar with the situation for at least two decades. S.B. 678 is only the latest attempt to fix adult probation. To properly understand the origins of the new law and the potential challenges facing its implementation, it is necessary to survey the various reform efforts and failed projects that preceded it. S.B. 678 builds upon experience gleaned over the years from California’s own failed laws, the accumulation of knowledge regarding criminogenic factors and best practices, several expert reports, and legislative experiments in other states.
A. California’s Failed Probation Legislation
The California Legislature enacted the first probation laws in 1903. However, the first major legislative attempt to substantively impact county probation practices was the California Probation Subsidy Act of 1965. The Probation Subsidy Act was an incentive-based funding provision, the basic structure of which has much in common with S.B. 678. The Probation Subsidy Act provided counties up to $4,000 for each adult or juvenile offender supervised in the community, rather than sent to prison. The state provided counties with the subsidies based on probation departments’ improvement over historical commitment levels, thus incentivizing counties to maintain probationers in the community and lower their revocation rates. Proponents of the Subsidy Act optimistically argued that: “[T]he state payment is sufficient to provide excellent supervisory and ancillary programs for three or four times as many persons as were not committed. . . . In fact, the program should increase public protection through prevention of delinquency and reduction of repeated criminality.”
Especially in its early years, the Subsidy Act lived up to these expectations, diverting more than 45,000 offenders from state institutions to local probation programs. However, various factors contributed to the Legislature’s eventual decision to cease the subsidies. First, although the Subsidy Act provided counties with more funding, most counties did not implement new services for offenders, such as halfway houses and day service centers. Second, the Act’s subsidies did not keep pace with the rate of inflation, undermining its efficacy at enticing counties to supervise offenders. And third, the Legislature came to consider the program too costly. As nationwide sensibilities shifted from rehabilitation to incapacitation, California’s move to a determinate sentencing scheme as well as the passage of tough on crime laws multiplied the number of offenders and the cost of prisons. Ending the subsidies immediately saved money for the state, although in the long term it might have proven more cost effective to fix the Subsidy Act rather than to scrap it. As a result, in 1978 the Legislature replaced the Probation Subsidy Act with the County Justice System Subvention Program, which provided counties with grants to support local justice programs. Later, the Subvention Program became a block grant with few requirements for grantees, and thus had little impact on prison commitments. By 1992, the Subvention Program represented only 7.5% of county probation expenditures statewide.
Legislators enacted the second major attempt to impact probation in the mid-1990s as part of a trend of states enacting “community corrections acts.” These diverse acts all created “mechanisms by which state funds [were] granted to local governments and community agencies to encourage local sanctions in lieu of prison or jail.” Already in the late 1980s, a population crunch threatened California state prisons. In 1990, the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management recommended adopting a community corrections act to expand community-based intermediate sanctions. As a result, the Legislature passed the Community-Based Punishment Act of 1994. The Community Based Punishment Act would establish a “partnership between the state and local government” to expand probation in an effort to ease prison overcrowding. As recommended, the Community Based Punishment Act encouraged counties to develop “intermediate sanctions” such as short-term jail stays, boot camp, home detention and electronic monitoring, community service, drug testing, rehabilitation, and job training. The Legislature recognized that probation programs required a “consistent, reliable, and separate funding source;” and it designated the California Board of Corrections to oversee the approval of county corrections plans and the annual doling out of funds.
Those funds never materialized. The Achilles heel of the Community Based Punishment Act was not its goals or even its basic structure, but the total lack of long-term guaranteed funding or startup moneys. Implementation was “contingent upon the availability of funding” from the state budget, federal funds, private grants, and “[o]ther sources as may be identified as suitable . . . .” The Community Based Punishment Act comically instructed the Board of Corrections to “seek startup funding . . . from public and private sources commencing as soon as practicable.” In 1995, the State Legislature allocated $2 million to the Board of Corrections to fund county planning grants. This paltry sum was never replicated. Needless to say, the Community Based Punishment Act was a total failure as a result of these vague financial directives.
Following the 1994 act, there were no further legislative initiatives to fix adult probation until the state prison crisis came to a head in the late 2000s. But, the 1965 Probation Subsidy Act and the 1994 Community Based Punishment Act are still significant in that they communicate important lessons regarding implementation of reforms. First, the Probation Subsidy Act’s initial success proves that state funds for county probation, if properly structured, can incentivize counties to supervise offenders in the community. Second, successful implementation of a probation reform act requires a guaranteed and steady source of funding–both start-up and long-term. Third, once programs are implemented, the Legislature ought to make periodic evaluations of the programs and formulate adjustments as necessary. If the Legislature had adjusted the Probation Subsidy Act to account for inflation, the Subsidy Act might have proven to be more successful in the long-term. And fourth, in a partnership between state and local authorities, each party must try to require accountability of the other. For example, California ought to have required probation departments to implement new programs with subsidies from the 1965 Act. Relations between state and locals are notoriously difficult in California, and public safety collaborations tend to be strained. Mutual accountability is necessary for such collaborations to work.
B. Best Practices and Recommendations
In the thirty or so years since California abandoned the Probation Subsidy Act, criminologists have made major advances in understanding what factors tend to impact offenders’ rates of recidivism, and what programs and sentencing structures are best able to reduce the risk of re-offense. A body of “best practices” for community punishment and other forms of corrections has gradually emerged and is only now gaining headway in policy. Significantly, this research shows that behavior change and rehabilitation can be successful when implemented properly for the right subsection of offenders.
Briefly, best practices include: (1) a combination of surveillance and treatment for probationers, rather than one or the other alone; (2) the use of evidence-based practices risk and needs assessment tools; (3) swift, certain, and proportionate punishment for all probation violations, with a concomitant range of graduated sanctions and positive incentives for offenders; and (4) community coordination and cooperation. Over the last decade, various statewide studies and reports have recommended reforms for California’s probation system, including some of these practices.
In 2000, California’s Administrative Office of the Courts appointed a Probation Services Task Force to perform a comprehensive review of probation in California. When it issued its Final Report in 2003, the Task Force set out seventeen recommendations to improve the unacceptable “status quo.” These recommendations included the provision of stable and adequate funding; more centralized governance of probation; the development of measurable goals and objectives; the adoption of risk/needs assessments and meaningful program evaluations; creating a graduated continuum of services and sanctions, especially for adults; and greater collaboration among courts, counties, and other community agencies.
Nothing immediately resulted from the Task Force report. In 2007, as the prison overcrowding crisis came to a head, the Little Hoover Commission published a report titled “Solving California’s Corrections Crisis,” subtitled “Time is Running Out.” Although the Little Hoover Commission evaluated the whole corrections structure, it in particular recommended “reallocating resources [from state prison] to community based alternatives,” and “assist[ing] counties in expanding intensive probation,” as well as implementing evidence-based practices and a “continuum of alternatives to prison.” Various witnesses told the Commission that California should re-establish something like the original Probation Subsidy Act.
Finally, in 2009, as the Legislature was drafting S.B. 678, the Legislative Analyst’s Office published a report on probation, “Achieving Better Outcomes for Adult Probation.” The LAO identified a set of best practices for probation, including the use of risk and needs assessments, program reviews and evaluations based on data collection, referral to treatment and assistance services, a reduction in probation officers’ caseloads, and a system of graduated sanctions to combat the cycle of criminal activity buildup followed by revocation. Ultimately, the LAO settled on recommending an incentive-based funding program for probation, not unlike the one recently implemented in Arizona.
C. Legislative Initiatives in Other States
California is not the only state to experience a problematic rise in its prison population and a concomitant rise in probationers. A small number of other states–Kansas and Arizona, in particular–have implemented experimental legislation in an attempt to reduce probationers’ recidivism. S.B. 678 is not identical to any of these initiatives, but it does adopt certain aspects of their provisions. Although these states have different probation systems than California, it is worthwhile to examine their initiatives to better understand the policy choices California has made.
Kansas and Arizona have each passed formal legislation addressing probation reform, Kansas in 2007 and Arizona in 2008. Both states articulated similar overall goals for the legislation, including increasing public safety, increasing services for probationers, and, ultimately, reducing the rate of probation revocation. Also, both states were concerned with their rising prison populations and crime rates. Although their goals were the same, the states’ approaches did differ in significant respects.
Kansas’ S.B. 14, also known as the Community Corrections Statewide Risk Reduction Initiative (RRI), set up a competitive grant application system for counties and established a statewide goal of reducing each probation agency’s revocation rate by twenty percent using a FY 2006 baseline. Under the RRI, probation agencies (called “community corrections” in Kansas) submit grant proposals to the Department of Corrections which then distributes funds to community corrections agencies based on plans that accord with the RRI’s stated requirements. In particular, the RRI requires the adoption of risk assessment instruments, provision of evidence-based treatment and services, and ongoing data tracking and evaluation of set goals. Significantly, the grants are tied to outcomes: the Department of Corrections continues to fund programs only if they are meeting their established goals.
Rather than set a statewide revocation reduction goal, Arizona’s S.B. 1476, the Safe Communities Act, creates an incentive-based funding initiative for county probation departments whereby probation receives a portion of the money saved by the state prison system when probationers remain in the community. Annually, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee calculates for each county the costs avoided by the Department of Corrections that may be attributed to reducing the county’s rate of revocation. This is accomplished by comparing the number of revocations to state prison in each county with a county-specific baseline revocation rate established in 2007-2008; the Budget Committee does the same for the number of probationers with new felony convictions. As long as the number of revocations and new convictions are decreasing compared with its baseline rates, each county will receive forty percent of the cost savings, to be spent on substance abuse treatment, risk reduction programs, and victim services. This provides a source of funding for probation departments that is directly tied to their ability to reduce revocations and improve services; at the same time, it insures a cost-savings for the state since sixty percent of total cost savings remain unallocated.
In addition to providing a steady stream of funding for outcomes-improving probation departments, the Arizona Safe Communities Act also provides “earned time credit” for probationers for their good behavior. On the recommendation of an adult probation officer, a judge may reduce a probationer’s term of supervision by twenty days for every month in which the probationer “1) [e]xhibits positive progression toward the goals and treatment of the probationer’s case plan, 2) [i]s current on payments for court ordered restitution . . ., or 3) [i]s current in completing community restitution.” The earned-time credit provision creates a positive incentive for probationers to engage with services such as treatment and education, to interact with their probation officers, and to fulfill their other obligations. The goal, of course, is both to improve offenders’ chances of success on probation and to successfully graduate more probationers from their sentences.
Although Arizona’s statute is arguably more innovative than Kansas’, particularly with regard to its sharing of cost-savings, Kansas’ RRI does place more emphasis on developing the kinds of meticulously planned programs that are shown to work well at reducing recidivism, including evidence-based practices, probation staff training, treatment services, education and employment training, data collection, and careful evaluation. Regardless of the differences, both initiatives have shown early promise, although the real funds for Arizona’s program will not be distributed until 2010-2011. According to the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC), programs which received the RRI grants achieved the twenty percent revocation reduction goal within one year and exceeded it within two years. Between 2006 and 2008, Kansas reported a statewide decrease in revocations to prison of 21.9%. It simultaneously experienced a 26.2% increase in probationers successfully completing their probation terms. Each community corrections agency submitted a detailed RRI plan to the KDOC, which included a succinct goal and program data. In the first two years, the KDOC engaged in extensive risk reduction education and skills development for community corrections staff and helped agencies develop evidence-based practices individualized to their targeted populations. Arizona, meanwhile, also exhibits positive trends, including a one-year thirteen percent decrease in revocation to jails or prison, and a 1.9% decrease in probationers’ new felony convictions. If these positive trends can be attributed to the Safe Communities Act–and in fact the report does not chart any definite linkage–then results must flow from the earned-time credit, since the incentive-based funding does not begin until 2010-2011.
Although Arizona and Kansas each have very different probation systems than California, the early success of these legislative attempts to reform probation provides an optimistic outlook for California’s new initiative.
III. California S.B. 678, The Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act
For more than a decade, those familiar with California’s probation system grew increasingly critical of the system’s inability to handle the rising numbers of adult felony probationers sentenced to the community. Finally, in 2009, the Legislature heeded their warnings and drafted a bill which declared that “[a]dult probation is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.” The Senate Committee on Public Safety acknowledged that “[t]he state has been overlooking probation as an essential partner in community corrections,” and noted that “because probation is so sorely under-resourced very little can be done to stop [felony probationers’] cycle of offending.” However, this official recognition of the need to reform adult probation arrived only as the result of an extraordinary moment of crisis in California’s justice system, and after careful political maneuvering on the part of probation supporters. The resulting statute, the Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act, is a hybrid of the Arizona and Kansas acts and includes many of the expert recommendations described in Part II of this article.
A. The Perfect Political Storm
The Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), the statewide association of California probation officers which became the primary sponsor of S.B. 678, worked for several years prior to the bill’s passage to educate members of the government regarding the need for funds for adult probation. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Legislature began to approve various grants and funding sources for juvenile probation which successfully reduced the number of juveniles in state institutions. One initiative was the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, passed in 2001, which provided a steady source of funding to counties for programs targeting at-risk youth and young offenders. The rate of juvenile incarceration dropped by seventy percent between 1994 and 2004. According to Jerry Powers, CPOC Legislative Chair, this preventative partnership between the state and counties demonstrated that “if you put money in on the front end, you save money on the back end, so everyone saves money.” Given the success of the juvenile initiatives, those in probation began to work toward something similar for adult services.
CPOC Executive Director Karen Pank, who had recently left Governor Schwarzenegger’s office, helped the association put together a strategic plan to bring attention to the issue and suggested that they make a pitch appealing to the governor’s public safety platform: “We knew we had this looming prison crisis, so what better way than to be proactive . . . .” Governor Schwarzenegger, who had vowed to reform California’s correctional system early in his tenure, liked the idea so much he proposed $100 million in funds for adult probation as part of the 2007-2008 budget. But the budget line did not get past the Legislature where prison overcrowding had not yet reached the boiling point.
The prison and budget crises did, however, help coalesce CPOC’s attempts to educate legislators regarding the need to fund adult probation. In 2007, CPOC became an intervener in Plata v. Schwarzenegger, one of the federal lawsuits addressing overcrowding in California’s prisons. The association joined the lawsuit to argue that California ought to invest in probation in order to prevent offenders from being sent to prison in the first place. Mr. Powers, the Chief Probation Officer for Stanislaus County, offered testimony before the federal three-judge panel, and later at a joint-legislative hearing, regarding the potential release of inmates ordered by the suit. “I told them I was opposed to the release,” Mr. Powers said. “You could do the same thing [i.e., decrease the prison population] in a much safer manner by slowing down the flow to prison in the first place.” CPOC’s arguments interested staff members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, who in late 2008 had learned about the new Arizona Safe Communities Act as well as a recent Pew Center report encouraging states to draft similar performance-incentive acts for community corrections. Senator Mark Leno, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, reached out to CPOC regarding the possibility of addressing the prison crisis through probation.
Two factors in particular influenced the drafting of the legislation: California’s fiscal crisis and Sacramento’s notoriously unforgiving politics. The fiscal crisis combined with the prison overcrowding crisis to create an extraordinary moment in California politics–what Senator Leno termed “the perfect storm” — in which criminal justice reformers were able to break through the state’s otherwise “nearly impassable political barriers . . . .” The three-judge panel had ordered the release of inmates; the Legislature needed to cut spending. Reducing the prison population was therefore an immediate goal, and improving probation a way to do it. But, the lack of funds meant that money for adult probation could not be provided in the way that the Legislature had previously funded juvenile probation–with state grants and budget items. Alison Anderson, the Chief Counsel for the Senate Committee on Public Safety, had worked on public safety since 1994 and saw potential in Arizona’s funding incentives model. “We’re upside-down in how we invest some of our public safety dollars,” Ms. Anderson said. She began to think that “maybe there’s a way we can share state savings with locals.” Arizona’s funding incentives model is better suited to hard economic times than Kansas’ grant-based approach because it requires no state funding without concomitant savings. However, while the double-crisis did create a window of opportunity, Sacramento politics remained a formidable barrier to the passage of any reform effort. Senator Leno is a high-profile Democrat, and Ms. Pank felt that a bipartisan approach would be necessary to give the bill any chance of success. Before drafting began, the idea was pitched to former Senator John Benoit, a Republican, as a way to increase public safety while decreasing the prison population. Senator Benoit agreed to become the co-author of the bill with Senator Leno. With a bipartisan pact in place, Ms. Anderson began drafting a bill that would provide funding for adult probation.
The resulting legislation, The Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act (CCPIA), introduced as S.B. 678, is “specifically designed to pay for itself” while simultaneously providing stable funding for adult felony probation, and thus promising economic viability. The CCPIA incorporates recommendations made by the Pew Center report, the LAO report, the Probation Services Task Force, and the findings in 2007 of the Little Hoover Commission. As a result, the CCPIA is an amalgamation of Arizona’s incentive-based model and the evidence-based emphasis of Kansas’ results-driven act.
B. The Three-Step Funding Formula
The CCPIA specifically targets adult felony probationers. As in Arizona, the CCPIA sets up a formula by which county probation departments receive annual funds from the state commensurate with each county’s success in preventing probationers from being sent to state prison. The formula involves three steps. In the first step, a cooperative of several statewide agencies and organizations calculates for each county its annual probation revocation rate as well as the annual statewide probation revocation rate. The counties are then placed into two tiers: those with failure rates that are no more than twenty-five percent higher than the statewide failure rate (Tier 1), and those with failure rates that are more than twenty-five percent above the statewide rate (Tier 2).
In the second step, the annual county revocation rate is compared to a baseline revocation rate, and calculated for each county using 2006-2008 data, in order to arrive at a yearly estimate of the number of probationers each county successfully prevented from revocation to prison. Tier 1 counties will receive funds equal to forty-five percent of the costs that the CDCR avoided for that county as a result of not having to incarcerate those probationers. This is calculated by multiplying the number of probationers successfully prevented from revocation by forty-five percent of the annual cost to incarcerate in prison and supervise on parole a failed probationer. The Tier 2 counties will receive forty percent of costs avoided.
Tier 1: Higher Performing Counties
# Probationers Prevented from Revocation to Prison x .45(annual incarceration cost for 1 revoked probationer)
Tier 2: Lower Performing Counties
# Probationers Prevented from Revocation to Prison x .4(annual incarceration cost for 1 revoked probationer)
Thus, counties with higher success rates (Tier 1) will receive a larger portion of costs avoided attributed to their success, although the exact dollar amount will be dependent upon the number of probationers prevented from revocation. This means that larger counties with smaller success rates might still receive more funding than small but highly successful counties.
The third step is meant to reward the state’s highest performing counties, all of which will be in Tier 1. Counties with revocation rates more than fifty percent below the statewide revocation rate can choose between receiving the Tier 1 calculation and a “high performance grant.” Annually, the state will calculate five percent of total savings to the state attributed to all counties’ successful reduction of revocations that year. Each county opting for a high performance grant will receive a share of the five percent calculation based on the county’s total population (not just probationers) of eighteen to twenty-five year-olds.
Ms. Anderson explained that the high performance grants, which do not appear in the Arizona bill, are intended to ensure adequate recognition of counties that are already high-performing. To understand how the high performance grant might benefit a county, contrast Contra Costa County and Los Angeles County. From 2005-2007, Contra Costa County had an average revocation rate of one percent, placing it well below the statewide average of 7.5%. Los Angeles County, in contrast, had a 10.7% average revocation rate, placing it in Tier 2. However, Los Angeles County has a total population of adult felony probationers more than eighteen times the size of Contra Costa’s. So, even though Contra Costa will be Tier 1, the number of Contra Costa probationers prevented from revocation might be much smaller than Los Angeles County’s, and the funds it receives from the Tier 1 calculation smaller than Los Angeles County’s Tier 2 calculation. But, Contra Costa’s total eighteen to twenty-five year-old population is large–about 124,000. Contra Costa would therefore receive a fairly large amount of the high performance grant if it opted to do so, and this would potentially amount to more money than the Tier 1 calculation would otherwise provide.
This three-step formula aims to realign the fiscal relationship between the state and county probation departments, and, in the process, realign the adverse incentives formerly in place. The CCPIA encourages counties to supervise offenders in the community, rather than pass the buck to the state–the lower a county’s failure rate, the more state funds it will receive. The formula is good for the state as well since it saves a portion of the money that it would otherwise spend on incarcerating probationers. The Assembly Appropriations Committee projects annual General Fund savings of tens of millions of dollars, with savings of $30 million projected for 2009-2010. The Department of Finance projected that if half of the roughly twenty thousand felony probationers revoked to prison instead remained in the community–an ambitious estimate–annual savings for the state would be as high as $255 million, while counties could receive up to $127.3 million.
C. Evidence-Based Programs and Practices
In addition to creating a complex but strategic funding formula, the CCPIA stipulates that county probation departments must spend these funds on “evidence-based community corrections practices and programs” for adult felony probationers. In particular, the CCPIA recommends implementing and expanding the use of risk and needs assessments to evaluate what level of supervision and which programs each offender requires. It also suggests the use of intermediate sanctions such as electronic monitoring, mandatory community service, “restorative justice programs,” and incarceration in county jail; “providing more intense probation supervision;” and expanding the availability of evidence-based programs and rehabilitation for substance abuse, mental health, cognitive behavior, and employment training.
While the California Department of Finance and the Administrative Office of the Courts calculate and disburse the annual funds, county probation departments retain control of designing and implementing the evidence-based programs as they see fit. Pursuant to the CCPIA, probation must set up an advisory committee, called the Community Corrections Partnership, to advise in development and implementation of evidence-based practices. The Community Corrections Partnership is mandated to include a range of public safety stakeholders, such as the presiding judge of the superior court, the district attorney and public defender, the sheriff and chief of police, representatives of county social services, mental health, education, and employment, and a representative of victims. Thus, the CCPIA encourages the kind of community participation and cooperation demonstrated to be an essential part of the successful implementation of community corrections programs.
Finally, and critically both for the proper functioning of the funding formula as well as for the successful implementation of evidence-based practices, the CCPIA requires probation departments to identify and track data and “outcome-based measures.” This includes basic data such as the number of adults on felony probation, the number of revocations to state prison, the number of probationers successfully completing their terms, the percentage of state moneys expended on evidence-based programs, and the percentage of offenders supervised in accordance with evidence-based practices. In order to facilitate the accurate collection of data for the bill, the Legislature passed a companion bill, S.B. 431, which requires an adult probationer’s county of residence to facilitate the offender’s supervision. This remedies the former practice whereby probationers could be placed on probation in a county other than where they resided, which created situations of duplicate supervision or no supervision at all.
Significantly, the CCPIA requires that counties reserve five percent of funds to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and practices, thereby encouraging reliance on evidence and outcome-based measures not only to implement programs, but also to determine whether such programs are delivering the desired outcomes. The bill also builds in some degree of state oversight. Annually, probation departments must submit a written report to the Administrative Office of the Courts and CDCR evaluating the effectiveness of their programs. In turn, the state agencies disbursing the funds must annually report to the Governor and Legislature regarding statewide performance-based outcomes stemming from the CCPIA and “[t]he impact of the moneys . . . to enhance public safety . . . .”
In theory, therefore, the CCPIA incorporates many of the best practices and recommendations of the various reports which have addressed probation in California. In particular, it encourages a combination of surveillance and treatment for probationers, the use of evidence-based risk and needs assessment tools and practices, with critical evaluation of program efficacy, and coordination and cooperation with the community. It also seeks to address two of the problems inherent in California’s decentralized probation model: lack of state oversight and failure to collect data. Although the CCPIA retains California’s county-based probation system, it does require greater cooperation between state agencies and local entities as far as data collection and funds disbursement. Ideally, this would enable the state to monitor the overall effectiveness of the programs and require some level of accountability from counties without meddling too much in local affairs. Ultimately, the CCPIA represents a shift in perspective on adult probation: “For a long time, adult probation was not seen as something that has outcomes,” said Natalie Pearl, Research Director for San Diego County Probation. “This bill is one of the first opportunities we’ve had to get funding for adult services.”
D. Focus on Public Safety and Startup Funds
While the CCPIA creates a new financial structure, it is worthwhile to consider what the Act does not implement. First, the CCPIA does not alter the existing sentencing structure. No crimes are re-categorized as requiring probation rather than incarceration. Second, the CCPIA does not adopt Arizona’s approach and thus does not provide probationers with the possibility of shortening their sentences with earned-time credit. Third, the CCPIA does not shift responsibility for probation to the state: probation remains a local public safety program receiving some state funds. And fourth, the CCPIA does not itself provide startup funding for evidence-based programs.
Although the CCPIA does align with many policy-based arguments, politics influenced what drafters ultimately decided to include in the bill. Ms. Pank said that creating an earned-time-credit provision or including any sentencing reform were politically infeasible options. Sentencing reform, in particular, is a dead issue in Sacramento. Since 1984, seven attempts to create a statewide sentencing commission to evaluate and reform California’s penal code have failed due to political opposition. In addition, CPOC and county probation departments did not wish to cede control over probation to the state; and the CDCR certainly did not have the political desire or capacity to assume responsibility for even more offenders. According to Ms. Pank:
We were very clear that this was a delicate balance. We needed to juxtapose this solution [to the prison crisis] with all the other proposed solutions. We needed to show that this is not changing sentencing; this is not a realignment of county programs to the state . . . . If we had done anything that looked like a sentencing change, that would have upset the political balance of this big piece of legislation.
Aware of the politics at play, those supporting S.B. 678 strategically emphasized public safety and fiscal outcomes, rather than altering sentencing or diverting offenders who would normally go to prison. Ms. Anderson explained that a focus on diversion would have undermined efforts to pass the bill: “In California, in order to get broad bipartisan support, that as a goal was not going to get us where we wanted to go.” In the Senate, the Committee on Public Safety told legislators that S.B. 678 would accomplish three goals: (1) reduce crime through increased supervision of felony offenders; (2) reduce prison overcrowding, “not by early release but by decreasing the criminal activity of those already on felony probation;” and (3) establish sustainable funding and save money for the state. Notably, rehabilitation, treatment, restorative justice, and diversion are not listed among those three reasons.
The strategic bipartisan focus on outcomes, combined with a crisis situation, worked. S.B. 678 unanimously passed in the Senate and the Assembly in September 2009. But, the passage of the bill alone, without startup funds, would be problematic. The failure of the 1994 Community Based Punishment Act communicated an important lesson to the CCPIA’s sponsors. “S.B. 678 is really a great piece of legislation. It really sets up a place to pivot the criminal justice system. But it wouldn’t work if there wasn’t any startup money,” Ms. Pank said. Federal funding offered a solution: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 made stimulus funding available to states for public safety projects. Through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, probation departments are eligible for a portion of $44.5 million to jump-start the implementation of evidence-based programs and practices. The Legislature approved the one-time federal grant funding as part of the 2009-2010 Budget Act, which also reserved $424,000 for the Administrative Office of the Courts to begin administering the CCPIA. With all the pieces thus in place, the CCPIA is set to begin reforming the state of adult felony probation in California.
IV. Implementing S.B. 678
The passage of S.B. 678, while groundbreaking, is just the beginning of the efforts to reform adult probation in California. California’s own legislative history demonstrates that good legislative work comprises only a small fraction of the battle. The movement from planning to implementation can, and undoubtedly will, pose unforeseen challenges. Data collection, funding administration, the daily actions of probation officers–all these areas and others open a myriad of potential pitfalls. Moreover, probation has limited time to demonstrate the act’s efficacy to legislators since the CCPIA sunsets in 2015. It is therefore useful to take note of those areas which may pose particular challenges to implementation. If implementers exercise caution and flexibility, the CCPIA could prove to be a long-term success.
A. A Survey of County Plans
Beginning in 2010, probation departments will receive the one-time JAG stimulus grants distributed over a period of three years; the size of the grants, which total $44.5 million, are proportionate to each county’s population of adults ages eighteen to twenty-five years. Counties submitted applications for JAG stimulus funds to the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) in late 2009. These grant applications, accompanying submissions to county supervisor boards, and interviews with chief probation officers, provide details of probation department plans for the implementation of the CCPIA. A survey of the grant applications of seven diverse counties, some Tier 1 (Stanislaus, San Diego, San Francisco, Tulare), some Tier 2 (Riverside, Shasta, Fresno), some with very large adult felony probation populations (San Diego: 21,940; Riverside: 13,052) and other smaller (San Francisco: 4,733; Shasta: 1,822) gives some indication of the immediate actions probation departments are taking to implement evidence-based practices. The grant applications and other sources show that counties are beginning the process of hiring probation officers, implementing risk/need assessments, and exploring options for increasing evidence-based services and sanctions.
The Recovery Act requires grant recipients to demonstrate that the funding helped retain or create jobs. As a result, all counties applying for grants plan to hire new probation officers or retain others that, due to budget cuts, might have otherwise been let go. Given the high caseloads across counties, the retention or addition of probation officers is indeed critical to the success of any probation reform; moreover, implementing evidence-based practices will likely require more time per probationer than previously provided. For example, Tulare County, which will receive a total of $635,044 over three years, plans to use ninety-nine percent of grant funds to pay the salary and benefits of four new probation officers. Tulare, currently the sixth most poverty-stricken county in the United States with a 14.9% unemployment rate, would not otherwise be able to implement evidence-based practices: “Adult offenders in Tulare County receive very few specialized services that assist them in maintaining a crime-free lifestyle. Current adult supervision probation caseloads average over 100 probationers per officer and do not allow for intensive supervision services nor adequate assessment of offender needs.”
Lowering caseloads is a goal even for the highest performing counties, like San Francisco. Wendy Still, the San Francisco Chief Adult Probation Officer, said that San Francisco will also be adding a probation officer in an ongoing effort to lower caseloads to eighty offenders per officer.
In addition to adding staff, probation departments which formerly did not use risk/needs assessment tools are spending JAG funds to purchase and implement these. For example, Tier 2 counties Fresno, Riverside, and Shasta each lacked an assessment tool prior to 2010. Fresno County will use part of its $1.3 million grant funding to implement the use of an assessment tool to help determine “what interventions would best address the offender’s risk of reoffending and thus returning to prison.” Sparsely populated Shasta County will use a portion of its $37,353 grant to participate along with fifteen other counties in the development of an assessment tool.
Many counties are also planning to expand evidence-based services for probationers; a task that is possible only through increases in staffing and the use of risk/needs assessment tools. San Francisco intends to implement a pilot program targeted at felony probationers ages eighteen to twenty-five; and, in addition to higher levels of supervision, probationers who fall into this category will have increased access to services in four target areas: substance abuse, housing, education, and employment. Wendy Still explained that the idea is to show that the program works for this target group, and thereafter it will expand outward to the rest of the probation population using CCPIA funds. Since San Francisco will likely fall within the small pool of counties eligible for the high performance grants, Ms. Still said she will select whichever calculation–Tier 1 or high performance–will provide more money. In San Diego, roughly $2 million of the county’s $3.4 million in stimulus funding will go toward accepting contract bids from community providers of direct services. Although San Diego is a Tier 1 county with a large adult felony probation population, Natalie Pearl said the right types of services are not currently available to probationers. In particular, she said, San Diego will be looking for carefully tailored contract proposals for cognitive behavioral services, substance abuse treatment, and vocational and educational training.
Several counties, including Stanislaus, Fresno, and Tulare, are intending to combine access to services with increased supervision through the creation of targeted day reporting centers. All three counties will assign probationers to high supervision caseloads based on the outcome of assessment tools. Stanislaus, for example, is specifying intensive supervision for approximately fifty medium-to-high risk eighteen to twenty-five year-old felony probationers. Day reporting centers place probation officers under the same roof as services, allowing a one-stop shop for daily interactions with probation officers, drug testing, job training, housing assistance, peer support groups, and other services.
Finally, both San Diego and Stanislaus intend to increase probationer accountability through implementing sanction models in which offenders receive immediate hearings and escalating sanctions for any violations. Stanislaus, in addition to increasing services through a day reporting center, will emulate an evidence-based program in Hawaii called HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement). Through the use of unscheduled drug testing and the threat of immediate, short-term jail sentences (“flash incarceration”), HOPE has demonstrated success in significantly decreasing positive drug tests and lowering arrest rates among probationers. Ms. Pearl said that San Diego is looking at a similar model used in Houston and hopes to create a program tailored to San Diego’s resources and needs.
B. Potential Challenges for Implementation
The statewide implementation of the CCPIA is underway and so far appears to be conforming to the intent of legislators. However, there are already several areas of concern for implementation which probation departments and state administrations should carefully consider: county budget shortfalls; the need for extensive training; and the omission of concrete incentives for probationers.
First, while the CCPIA guarantees some funding from the state once the initiative is up and running–that is, once counties can show results–but before those results develop, counties must depend on the stimulus grants and county funds. While the JAG grants are a positive development, federal funds may not be enough to provide the needed startup money. Unfortunately, the CCPIA asks probation departments to develop greater supervision and resources at a time when many counties face severe budget cuts. For example, Tulare County cut its Probation Department’s budget by 6.03% in FY 2009-2010, freezing some salaries and instituting a mandatory furlough. Stanislaus intends to implement a “flash incarceration” system, but the Sheriff’s Department is closing two hundred fifty beds due to budget cuts. And, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome told agencies, including probation, to submit reports anticipating worst-case scenario budget cuts of ten to twenty percent. Karen Pank said that with all of the budget cuts, “I’m concerned that $45 million of start-up funding won’t go as far as we had hoped.” That would leave probation departments without the funds necessary to implement the programs and practices needed to begin fulfilling the CCPIA’s revocation-reduction objective. Moreover, for less populous counties, the stimulus grants may not be enough to cover the costs of assessment tools and data management systems. As a result, Ms. Pank said she would not be surprised if some smaller counties decide that it is not cost effective for them to partake in the CCPIA program at all.
Funding issues aside, the mere implementation of evidence-based practices and programs alone, without ongoing training and monitoring of probation officers and staff, will accomplish little. As the National Institute for Corrections admonishes, “[i]mplementing evidence-based policy and practice is not a simple task; it requires a fundamental change in the way community corrections does business, and a shift in the philosophies of those doing this work.” Turning theory into practice can backfire if program components are altered or ignored due to political pressure or shoddy training: “Those interested in translating the ‘what works’ literature into operational programs must make certain that the programs are implemented fully and coherently, not dismantled or watered down through the political process in ways that undermine their effectiveness.”
Wendy Still agrees that, even in high-performing San Francisco, instituting best practices is slow work which requires training. “We have a long way to go,” she said. “There are cultures that have to change within institutions.” However, the text of the CCPIA does not mention probation staff training. And while the act requires departments to reserve some funds for the evaluation of programs, this back-end focus misses critical work that must be done at the front end. The California Public Defenders Association, which opposed S.B. 678, criticized the bill for “presuppos[ing] that each Probation Department is a clinically trained treatment provider.” Indeed, in San Diego, Natalie Pearl predicts that the largest challenge for implementation of the CCPIA will be insuring that all probation officers and staff are properly using the evidence-based methods: “I see the major challenge as fidelity to the evidence based practice knowledge. I don’t think most of us really understand what [constant and careful following of EBP] means . . . . Unless you maintain integrity to that model, it won’t reduce recidivism.”
As a result, San Diego is taking the training of its officers seriously. As part of the its grant funding, the county will be collaborating with the University of California, San Diego to provide two days of training per month for its line officers. Although San Diego already uses a risk/needs assessment, Ms. Pearl said training will focus on the “needs” half of the equation. Officers will learn how to better manage cases and motivate offenders to change. Proper implementation will call for a shift in officer attitude from an all-enforcement mentality to a mixture of supervision and social work. Unless other counties likewise devote resources to training, the theory behind evidence-based practices will likely fail to produce real outcomes when implemented.
In addition to failing to mention or build in resources for training, the Legislature opted to refrain from including earned-time credits for probationers who follow court orders and participate in programming. The possibility of shortened probation terms for good behavior would provide probationers with positive incentives to alter their criminal conduct. The California Public Defenders Association criticized S.B. 678 for this omission and suggested that it include incentives for probationers “including, but not limited to, reduction in the length of probation supervision.” Although conceivably the CCPIA could reduce revocations without such incentives, this situation has not been tested. Arizona’s early success appears to be largely the result of the earned-time credit provision. Moreover, the experience of drug courts and other evidence-based programs indicates that “positive reinforcement for good behavior is often critical for producing long-term behavioral improvement,” especially for individuals with long histories of coercive interactions with the law. Of course, judges are already enabled by law to reduce probation terms, so probation departments do not need an act to recommend a term reduction to judges. Wendy Still said San Francisco intends to do just that if a probationer is doing well on probation and participating in programs. In fact, positive incentives need not be limited to a reduction in probation time, but could be as simple as positive feedback from a figure of authority, such as a judge, or recognition at a graduation ceremony, as occurs in drug court. That said, positive incentives of this ilk only work if the probationer is aware of them ex ante, and they are dependent on the involvement of a judge in the oversight of a probationer’s case.
The success of the CCPIA might very well depend on probation’s proactive outreach to county judges. Judges have the power not only to decide whether to sentence offenders to probation in the first place, but also to determine the conditions of probation. Judges can set goals for the offender, shorten probation terms, and show lenience if an offender violates the terms of his probation. Judges also have the influence to draw together justice system actors such as prosecutors and defenders, thus proving an important ally in the creation of community cooperation and motivation. In fact, Little Hoover Commission recommended that judges should be empowered to “oversee the progress of the offenders in the assigned community sanctions.” The Public Defender Association likewise agreed that “intensive judicial supervision will enhance public safety and increase positive outcomes for a great number of [probation program] participants.” While the CCPIA does include the chief judge of the county superior court on the Community Corrections Partnership committee, probation departments ought to make a concerted effort to obtain buy-in and active support for local judges whether or not they decide to provide offenders with positive incentives.
After twenty years of neglect, California’s adult probationers are finally receiving the legislative attention this high-risk, high-needs population desperately needs. If implemented properly, California’s S.B. 678, the Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act, could represent a sea-change in how the California justice system engages with low-level offenders. In large part, the CCPIA is a well-crafted piece of legislation which incorporates expert recommendations and lessons learned from failed projects. By providing sustainable funding tied to probation departments’ implementation of evidence-based practices, the CCPIA seeks to realign the fiscal relationship between counties and the state and to reverse the adverse incentive structure which leads counties to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate. So far, counties that have begun to implement the CCPIA appear to be adhering to legislative intent; but implementation will likely prove difficult. In order to ensure the success of the CCPIA, probation departments should devote adequate resources to staff training, provide positive incentives for probationers, and reach out to judges and other justice system actors. Furthermore, the state and the counties should demand accountability of one another and annual reports evaluating outcomes should be read and then acted upon. Like any long-term project, the CCPIA will require some short-term investment in order to produce benefits down the road.
[C]ounty probation officials are managing larger adult offender caseloads with fewer resources, often resulting in little or no supervision…. Probation departments are increasingly placing sentenced offenders into large ‘banked’ caseloads (a new form of unsupervised probation) with a statewide average ratio of 629 offenders per probation officer.
Nieto, The Changing Role of Probation, supra note 42.