This week in Realignment: Guest Column by Tom Hoffman

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This is Part 2 of 2 of Mr. Hoffman’s reaction to the C-ROB report. Part 1 can be read here.

Just as the day to day stress around Prop 83/Jessica’s Law began to subside in late 2007, the fiscal implications of the great recession were impacting every aspect of the CDCR, including the funding for DAPO and CDCR Adult Programming. As noted in the report, it is in this time period that budget cuts to rehabilitative programming, service provider contracts and staffing reductions began were felt in all corners of the department.

This continued throughout multiple budget cycles. At the same time, the political and social pressure to reduce recidivism and develop meaningful parole reform became the priority of the day. Driven in no small part by the need to reduce the 66,000 parole violator admissions into the state institutions each year, DAPO moved aggressively to develop many of the recommendations identified in the Expert Panel report. These efforts included developing a validated risk and needs assessment instrument (COMPAS), the CA validated risk assessment (CVSA), the parole violation decision making instrument (PVDMI), effective case management procedures and agent training and the expansion of post-release programming contracts and community outreach efforts all across the state. Here again, these very complicated and time sensitive obligations were being met while the parolee population remained the largest in the nation.  

Boiling just below the surface was the reality that at the local level, CDCR/DAPO was widely perceived as “the problem” across a wide spectrum of public safety issues. This included being solely responsible for managing the prisoner re-entry needs of approximately 10,000 men and women who were being released each and every month by CDCR. Parolees were undoubtedly seen as a state problem.  

Meanwhile, the Federal Court was becoming increasingly frustrated with the State’s (CDCR/DAPO) inability to provide care for inmates and keep prison populations down.  Everyone was holding their breath waiting for the court to either take over day to day operations or order a statewide release of inmates to alleviate state facility headcounts that were bulging at the seams.  It is important to understand many of these Federal litigations were initiated in the mid 1990’s, so this view by the Court came as no particular surprise. What may be lost on some as we move along with the roll out of AB 109 is the fact local jails are just as overcrowded, have as many (if not more) problems providing care and programming and also must cope with similar federally mandated population caps.

Unfortunately, standing in the way of the Department’s capacity to implement many of these changes or those suggested by the C-ROB report was and is pervaise NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Backyard). Among other problems this creates, this social and political view makes it virtually impossible to secure use permits for post-release rehabilitative facilities or service providers who oversee the programs.  This is one of the reasons reaching the goals established in AB 900, as discussed in the C-ROB report, has been so difficult to achieve. Simply stated, if local communities don’t cooperate and approve re-entry facilities and programming sites for private vendors, the intent of any legislation around this debate is fatally wounded. 

Fast forward and here comes “the CDCR Blueprint,” AB 109 and most recently SB 105.  The logistical difficults for CDCR/DAPO to comply with any, or all, of these legislatively supported obligations cannot be understated.

In the case of AB 109, I think we can comprehend how difficult it would be to downsize any state-wide operation by over 50 percent in a very short period of time as DAPO has achieved, especially recognizing no other “business”  is charged with the supervision and control of what can be a very dangerous segment of our population. As is their demonstrated history when responding to a legislative mandate, CDCR/DAPO is once again getting the job done, albeit not without some obvious pain. 

What is not realistic (and I will suggest “fair”) is an expectation that CDCR/DAPO can meet each of these obligations while simultaneously meeting the goals being monitored by C-ROB, all within a budget that has been virtually stripped of programming money and staff. 

Put aside the money and staffing issues. Historically, if a community approved a program/facility site, it was with the caveat that only “low risk” offenders be serviced at the site.  Unfortunately, research has consistently shown that providing programming and supervision to low risk offenders is counter-productive.  If we are to reduce recidivism and victimization over the long term we need to provide programming to mid and high risk parolees and probationers.

Absent a significant change in the level of cooperation at the local level around sentencing reform, probation supervision, re-entry programming for mid and high risk offenders and other rehabilitative services the agenda of the state and that of our local communities will effectively work against one another. 

The good news is the fact AB 109 (and hopefully SB 105) has indeed changed the nature and tone of the discussion with the state and CDCR/DAPO at the local level.  As I have said previously, now everyone has “skin” in meeting the needs around prisoner re-entry.  No longer is each discipline in the criminal justice puzzle simply concerned with the exclusive responsibilities of “their” job. 

For the first time in my career, everyone needs to work towards achieving a commonly held understanding of the “desired outcome” if we are to create a truly long term, effective criminal justice system.  Although there well may be 58 different versions of the “desired outcome”, working together at the local level is our greatest hope for achieving meaningful, well informed change.  We have learned over many years that thinking CDCR can independently make these changes happen and be held accountable for the subsequent outcomes community to community is simply not logical.          

Tom G. Hoffman is the former Director of the CDCR, Department of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) and was a longtime police officer in Southern California


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