By Karisa Cortez
SACRAMENTO, CA – Gov. Gavin Newsom last week signed the 2021-2022 Budget Act which expanded Law Enforcement, specifically probation offices, through an existing pretrial program.
The signing of the 2021-2022 Budget Act expands on a two year program that allows probation departments to develop and assign “risk assessments” to those who are awaiting trial. This allows certain individuals to be subject to different levels of surveillance which induces search and seizure and electronic monitoring.
The program began in 2019 with 16 counties participating and eventually was expanded to all 58 counties in California.
The initial counties were Alameda, Calaveras, Kings, Los Angeles, Modoc, Napa, Nevada-Sierra, Sacramento, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, and Yuba. The money allocated either created or expanded on already existing programs.
But a statement made by Care First CA Coalition, a group of community-based organizations and public defenders that works to advocate for people’s civil rights, details some of the negative issues with this act.
The coalition notes, “To preserve specific, narrowly-defined jobs, the state is sacrificing the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of mostly Black and Brown people impacted by disproportionate law enforcement and mass incarceration, and the stability of their communities.
It began through the Pretrial Reform and Operations Workgroup and was launched in January 2019 through Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. The group consisted of 12 people who were either trial court judges, appellate judges and court executive officers from both urban and rural areas of California.
There is currently $75 million of state funding allocated to the program annually.
One of the largest courts that participates in the program is Los Angeles County. According to a memo published by the California Courts, Los Angeles courts use a two-step assessment process where all eligible defendants are assessed with a static tool and the “court will use a dynamic assessment to assess a significant portion (20 percent) of those detained until arraignment, centralized to one courthouse location.”
Additionally, the Los Angeles courts have established a separate unit that consists of multiple officers who work to address pretrial decisions.
Many people are left in jail until their trial and according to a survey from the Board of States and Community Corrections three of four people in jail are there awaiting trial, not convicted of anything.
This is a process that can take months or even years. As a result, California has the second highest pretrial incarceration rate in the country. Covid-19 precautions this past year has made the situation worse.
Data compiled from the state Judicial Council of California shows that the initial program in the original 16 counties did not work. Some of the findings were that 30 percent of people under probation supervision were rearrested during the pretrial period. Additionally, 40 percent did not appear at their court hearings.
In counties like Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Sacramento where pretrial programs are based on community the numbers for non-appearances and arrests were much lower.
For instance, in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, San Francisco’s own pretrial diversion program reported that there were 2,422 successful case resolutions and 2,094 releases. They also reported a 95 percent public safety rate and 94 percent appearance rate through the Own-Recognizance Program (OR).
The program has a high failure rate which has resulted in more people being incarcerated for probation violations. Some of these have included: battery problems with ankle monitors, child care, missing appointments as a result of transportation issues, or health issues.
These arrests have led to people experiencing many issues, specifically around the area of working. As many have reported missing work, losing jobs, homelessness, having a criminal record (which makes future employment difficult), and generally having a difficult time recovering which leads to issues of economic stability.
The state assembly and senate both initially voted against the expansion of this program; as it had proven to only bring harm to the community, specifically with communities of color. However, it was still signed by Newsom after much lobbying.
Part of the pressure on Newsom to sign came from probation and law enforcement related unions.
CareFirst Coalition, as opponents of the measure, noted, “The state–and the labor unions–are overlooking the potential for new, high-quality jobs in supportive services that will pay massive dividends in restoring community economic vitality and public safety. Unions should invest in our communities, not in protecting law enforcement budget growth.”
The coalition also believe that “The passage of this $140 million budget item perpetuates a longstanding, narrow, and flawed definition of public safety—one that pits public safety against public health and economic prosperity.”
The coalition makes clear that counties can counter this by funding pretrial services into departments of health and social services, public defenders’ offices, and community-based organizations. However, this is unlikely to happen and most will likely continue to fund probation departments instead.