08/26/2016 by Nadine Ono
Riverside County moves forward with steps to make criminal justice system more cost effective
Riverside County Courthouse (Photo Credit: Jeff Wright/Flickr)
Riverside County strengthened its commitment to transforming its criminal justice system and make it more efficient and cost effective. The county Board of Supervisors this week Board voted unanimously to continue its work with CA Fwd’s Justice System Change Initiative (J-SCI) and to move into the implementation phase. The CA Fwd J-SCI team will advise departments within the county’s criminal justice system on how to strategically carry out the recommendations put forward in the Jail Utilization Study endorsed by the supervisors in March.
“Riverside County is taking the next step to ensure that fundamental changes are made to how the county manages the jail population with the ultimate goal to reduce costs and improve public safety,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd. “We are pleased to be working with county supervisors, executive leaders and the staff of the departments within the criminal justice system to make these vital changes.”
Earlier this month, the Riverside County J-SCI Executive Steering Committee, which includes the leaders and key staff of all the departments within the criminal justice system and the executive office, prioritized the recommendations in the jail study. At that meeting, the committee agreed to dedicate staff positions that will facilitate, implement and coordinate the work being done among all the departments. The CA Fwd J-SCI staff will work with department leaders to guide the process.
“The success of the J-SCI model is dependent on all the departments working together and moving forward,” said CA Fwd J-SCI lead Scott MacDonald. “Our job now is to advise department leaders on how to use the data to find opportunities and address inefficiencies in the system and correct them, which will ultimately improve public safety outcomes and reduce the number of jail beds used each year.”
Some of the recommendations discussed at the Riverside meeting include:
- Reduce the number of people returned to jail for non-criminal behavior
- Explore the potential to reduce delays and expedite court hearings so people who have not been convicted are not waiting in jail for the judicial process to be completed Maximize the use of pre-trial releases and programs
- Expand cost effective community-based custody alternatives
- Develop interventions to improve mental health outcomes and reduce jail time for the mentally ill
- Work collaboratively to better address substance use and abuse
The next step for the Riverside County and CA Fwd J-SCI teams will be to create cross-departmental work groups to further investigate how to implement the recommendations, or begin implementation directly.
Riverside County partnered with CA Fwd two years ago to use data-driven analysis to understand the dynamics of the jail population to identify ways to reduce costs and improve outcomes. The county jail is operated under a court-ordered population cap on its jails, as well as an increasing burden on its budget. The CA Fwd J-SCI team worked closely with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the Probation Department to study the data and look for areas that can be improved.
The jail study found that nearly half of the jail beds used at any given time were not related to being booked into jail for a new crime, but for reasons such as court commitments, revocations, warrants and holds (referred to as “side door” entries). The study also found that mentally ill individuals, who are mostly booked on holds, are booked more often and stay longer than other inmates.
In addition to Riverside County, CA Fwd’s J-SCI team is working with San Bernardino, El Dorado and Santa Cruz counties to lower their jail populations by transforming their criminal justice systems using data driven evidence.