San Francisco boasts of prison-realignment successes 

click to enlarge Wendy Still is the Adult Probation Department chief of San Francisco.
  • Wendy Still is the Adult Probation Department chief of San Francisco.

San Francisco officials claim The City has become a beacon of hope for reducing prison and jail populations without endangering communities.

One year ago, California prison realignment went into effect with the goal of minimizing overcrowding by releasing low-level inmates to county jails. Along with addressing overcrowding, Gov. Jerry Brown has said other reforms are needed — including at the local level — to reduce the state correctional system’s dismal 70 percent recidivism rate.

At this point, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said, the community should know the “the sky is not falling.”

But realignment did create a problem for many of the state’s overcrowded county jails. Of 58 counties, 32 plan to add new jail beds to accommodate the influx of inmates. San Francisco, on the other hand, is boasting its lowest jail population in 40 years.

The reason for the low population, city officials said, is the “model” rehabilitation programs that were developed in The City. They have uniquely enabled San Francisco to handle the new influx of prisoners.

In the first nine months of realignment, more than 26,000 inmates statewide were released to county jails or the supervision of probation officers, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. About 425 convicts have been transferred to the care of San Francisco probation officers, Adult Probation Department chief Wendy Still said Thursday.

Of them, 108 were released under the supervision of probation officers. Since then, Still said, only 29 percent have received one or more violations. That’s a far better result than the state’s 70 percent recidivism rate, she said.

Rather than the traditional approach to incarceration, probation officials said each of those prisoners are being individually assessed to determine what services will best help prevent further criminal behavior.

Still said probation officials now responsible for the low-risk parolees are doing extensive prerelease planning. Convicts are being connected to job training, housing, substance abuse and mental health services, and also basic necessities such as identification cards.

Using state funds provided to counties for realignment, The City is building a $1.3 million service center to match convicts with social services.

All related city agencies -- including the Department of Public Health, Sheriff’s Department, Public Defender’s Office and District Attorney’s Office — have implemented realignment plans.

The District Attorney’s Office has been working to rehabilitate offenders during the pretrial process, or before they’re sentenced to jail or prison. It has an alternative sentencing planner to recommend consequences that include individualized rehabilitative services.
“We cannot incarcerate our way out of the problem,” District Attorney George Gascón said.

It’s too early to tell whether the various efforts are working, but Gascón said they appear to be.

“Crime is not necessarily going up statistically in the county,” he said.

Due to The City’s progressive efforts, Still said, the state increased San Francisco’s realignment funding from $10 million to $17 million.

California Forward, which promotes government reform, noted that more than 73 percent of defendants completed the pretrial release program, and just 15 percent failed to comply with court orders.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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