San Diego County Agencies Collaborate on Realignment Goals

In San Diego County an ambitious collaboration to help Realigned offenders escape from cycles of crime is underway between public safety officials, the courts, probation, the District Attorney, Public Defender and community-based organizations. Agencies that historically have served cross purposes have teamed up in a search for the right mix of programming and punishment that will help offenders turn their lives around. “We have so many ideas, but it’s hard to change cultures,” said Deputy District Attorney Lisa Rodriguez, who trains her colleagues on the legal aspects of AB 109, including split sentences and the evidence-based practices and programs that might be a better option for some offenders than long terms of incarceration. In San Diego County Jails 36 percent of 5,750 inmates are 1170h offenders. Of that number, roughly 400 (as of May 2014) are serving split sentences that include mandatory supervision with program participation after release. The goal is for eligible split-sentenced offenders to finish their time at the 900-bed East Mesa Reentry Facility (EMRF), a campus-like jail in the desolate, windswept southeastern corner of the county, in order to take advantage of the promising rehabilitative programming offered there. At the facility correctional counselors and probation staff members put together a reentry plan for each split-sentence inmate. Inmates who are not-split sentenced can also attend programming and receive assistance from the counselors. The County is currently developing a data information system and is spending $2.5 million in AB 109 funds for a database that allows the sheriff, probation and behavioral health officials to access information across various systems in order to make data-driven decisions. “We now share information like pre-sentencing reports so that we can gear treatment while in custody to whatever the court has ordered,” said Martha Gutierrez, one of five probation staff members at the facility that are paid for with AB 109 funding. At EMRF offenders can get a GED, attend substance abuse counseling and classes in cognitive behavior such as Thinking For A Change, life skills, parenting and anger management. There they’ll learn to examine the reasons for their past bad choices, and how their decisions and thought process led them to incarceration. “I’ll have them write two sentences about a situation that they didn’t like the way it turned out. They’ll usually start with a blustery statement about the offense, but I hold them to two sentences because with the other six they’re just trying to justify what happened,” said Kathy Myers, a correctional counselor. “It makes them really think about why things happen.” Inmates also will have a chance to earn certificates in 10 employment training programs including construction, landscaping, food handling and culinary arts. A month before the offender is released on mandatory supervision the case file goes to a team led by Judge Desiree Bruce-Lyle that includes Public Defender Susan Clemens, Deputy DA Rachel Solov, Supervising Probation Officer John Keifer of the Post-Release Offender Unit, and a Sheriff’s Department Correctional Counselor. In a meeting prior to court appearances they’ll discuss offenders’ risks and needs, progress in cognitive behavioral therapy, available substance abuse treatment programs and potential living situations upon release. “We wanted to ensure a smooth interchange and that probation would get the ball and run with it,” said Judge Bruce-Lyle. “I read all of the probation reports and keep running notes. If I feel like probation is not following up I call them to make sure they’re supervising as they should.” Once the plan is in place and the sentence served, upon release 1170h split sentenced offenders are transported directly to the Community Transition Center, an assessment center where probation officers and mental health clinicians develop a case plan. Probation officers then connect the offender with the services they need to reintegrate into the community. By this point they will have identified three goals for their lives as well as the obstacles that might thwart them from achievement. All of the mandatory supervision offenders will wear a GPS monitor for at least two weeks, the most critical period for relapse. After release the offender must appear before the Judge Bruce-Lyle for regular status hearings. The offender is slowly reintegrated into the community and given additional time between drug tests and court appearances if he or she stays on track. For reaching supervision milestones, Judge Bruce-Lyle gives the offender “kudos,” which usually consists of a certificate of achievement and a gift card purchased with AB 109 funds. Offenders who break terms likewise lose status and privileges. To handle the new and more intensive caseload the San Diego County Probation Department hired more than 100 new staff members and created a Post Release Division to manage the post-release and mandatory supervision offenders. The County Health and Human Service Agency contracts with 15 substance abuse programs, nine of them residential, to provide treatment to those with addictive disorders. Implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act will help offenders sign up for healthcare and navigate the system that will pay for some types of treatment. The approach for enrolling offenders in ACA or Medi-Cal is a collaborative effort with Health and Human Services, Sheriff’s Department and Probation to educate and enroll offenders prior to release. The multi-agency collaboration is helping San Diego County meet the implementation goals of its Community Corrections Partnership, including more effectively using its jail space, incorporating reentry principals into in-custody programming, and using evidence-based practices in all areas of offender rehabilitation. For more information about San Diego County’s practices please contact: Christine Brown-Taylor at