By Miguel Dwin, MPP Candidate 2018
Prior to 2011, individuals convicted of a felony offense resulting in a sentence of more than one year would serve time in state prison. The state prison term was followed by an additional period on state parole supervision under the state Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO). However, under this policy, state prisons were becoming overcrowded, and conditions unbearable. In the Supreme Court case Brown v. Plata, inmates challenged the conditions of confinement in state correctional institutions, alleging the lack of medical services and administration procedures violated their Eighth Amendment protections against “cruel and unusual punishment”.
Inmates who entered into California prisons experienced poor intake procedures with inadequate medical screening. When a medical problem was detected, they suffered long delays or no access at all to medical care. California prisons were not employing competent or professional staff, and prison administrators were unresponsive to inmate complaints concerning their medical needs. At the same time, overcrowding made conditions horrendous, with inmates sleeping in rows of beds outside of the prison cells. Thirty-four inmates died under these inadequate conditions. While the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, many issues persisted.
In 2011, California Legislature passed the Public Safety Realignment Initiative, or AB 109, to rectify the ineffective “Three Strike” policy. This long-standing policy resulted in prison overcrowding and poor medical services in California state prisons. AB 109 forced inmates back to their home counties for sentencing, redefining almost 500 non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders from state prisons to county jails at the counties’ expense. AB 109 offenders on state parole whose parole was revoked would also serve the revocation sentence of up to 180 days, often called a “parole violation,” in county jail instead of in state prison.
Under AB 109, each county is required to invest in evidence-based correctional sanctions and programs to improve the economic and social welfare of their clients. However, despite this legislative initiative, Alameda County’s poor record-keeping has resulted in additional jail time for some inmates, and prevents many more from connecting to services. Odyssey, the court’s case management system, is cumbersome and makes it difficult for even the best trained clerks to keep up with court proceedings. To deal with the backlog, the court identifies potential constitutional issues and updates only the most critical information first. As a result, judicial actions and court dates often don’t appear in the system in a timely fashion.
Due to this inadequate record-keeping, individuals have been subjected to comply with probation conditions the court did not order. Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods stated he had three clients who were jailed a combined 50 extra days because judicial orders did not show up in the new Odyssey case-management system. He is asking supervising judges for the courts to stop using Odyssey. Civil rights experts say that “this is a clear violation of individual constitutional rights, inviting litigations against the state-operated court system”. Inefficiencies in this system put the County at risk for class-action lawsuits, as well as other legal actions.
To ensure effective services, Alameda County must have a more robust data integrated system for tracking clients, meeting court conditions, conducting evaluations, and measuring all levels of outcomes. The purpose of AB 109 is to improve the economic and social welfare of clients with risk needs of care. Recidivism is the best indicator for measuring success of AB109, but Alameda County lacks effective assessment and data analysis tools to evaluate information. Currently, service providers and department heads must manually share and update offender and inmate information, which making it unacceptably difficult to provide services. An effective county data collection and reporting system will not only protect clients’ rights, but will also allow them to connect with service providers so that nobody falls through the cracks.
Miguel Dwin is a 2018 MPP Candidate at the Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy. Miguel has served as a Budget Analyst for the Berkeley Unified School District since 2004, and is a former member of the Emeryville Unified School District Board of Trustees.