To the Honorable Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors:
Following the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Brown v. Plata affirming the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ mandate to reduce the state prison population, California policy makers have been called upon to develop and employ integrated community supervision plans to accommodate safely the transfer of thousands of prisoners back to local communities around the state. Under Assembly Bill 109 (“AB 109”) – the Public Safety Realignment bill - Los Angeles County is slated to receive a higher percentage of these returning prisoners than any other county in California. Faced with this critical responsibility, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Counsel urge the Board of Supervisors to accept the Los Angeles County Probation Department’s Strategic Plan for the Implementation of AB 109 to address the unique needs of the returning prison population, to prevent recidivism, and to ensure public safety.
The Probation Department’s Plan Follows an Evidence-Based Community Supervision Model and Will Have Lower Caseloads than the Sheriff’s Department Proposal.
Individuals under community supervision, particularly those at risk for supervision-related violations (e.g. those with mental health needs, substance abuse problems, etc.) often require extensive services to reintegrate into the community successfully rather than commit additional crimes that will require them to be reincarcerated. Research demonstrates that to supervise effectively probationers with mental health issues, substances abuse issues, or both, lower supervisor to probationer caseloads are necessary.
Examination of the proposals by Probation and LASD reveal that in the first year, Probation will have significantly lower caseloads than the LASD and thus are likely to have significantly better results in the form of reduced recidivism. Specifically, if the Board of Supervisors accepts Probation’s proposal, the average case load will be 50:1, while the LASD proposal provides for caseloads ranging from 70:1 in the first year and never lower than 60:1.
In addition, experts in the field of effective community supervision have consistently recommended that those tasked with community supervision adopt evidence-based practices grounded in needs-based programming. With its three-tiered supervision system, validated risk assessment tool, and comprehensive approach to community-based services, the Probation Department’s Plan responsibly sets out to meet the standards articulated by experts around the country.
At the heart of evidence-based community supervision is a focus on effective leadership and performance measurement.  Over the last two years, the Los Angeles Probation Department has demonstrated successful leadership working with the Alternative Treatment Caseload (ATC) program, a validated, evidence-based community supervision model created under the California Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act (SB 678) of 2009. Since the program’s implementation in July 2010, the number of prison commitments stemming from the Probation Department has decreased significantly.
By contrast, the Sheriff’s Plan is notably vague on the kind of practices that it will use in supervising probationers. This vagueness is not surprising, because LASD has no background or experience in such supervision and what methods are effective in reducing chances of recidivism and what methods have been shown to fail. Nor do the LASD deputies who will be assigned this task receive such training, because their academy training is on tasks associated with running jails and doing law enforcement work. Research shows that “incomplete or uncoordinated approaches [to community supervision] can have negative effects, often wasting resources.”
Probation Department’s Plan Follows a Recommended Move Away from Traditional Law Enforcement Model Toward Comprehensive Case Management System; the Sheriff’s Department Proposal Does Not.
In developing effective evidence-based community supervision practices, experts have specifically advocated for a move away from the aggressive surveillance models employed by parole and probations agencies that have a law enforcement mindset towards a more comprehensive case management and supervision system. Researchers note that, “the skills, competencies, and performance measures required of staff engaged in offender case management are quite different from those required by staff who are primarily involved in surveillance and monitoring.” Heeding this warning, no California County has relied on its law enforcement agencies to provide the complex case management system required to successfully supervise returning prisoners, instead reserving this duty for qualified probation departments. Indeed, neither the ACLU nor Public Counsel is aware of any county anywhere in the United States in which a police or sheriff’s department has the responsibility for supervising parolees or probationers.
As is customary for local law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s primary duties include patrol and custody. Nonetheless, the Sheriff’s Department’s Plan proposes that the Sheriff assume the role of “Regional Parole Coordinator for the County of Los Angeles.” Included on the Regional Parole Coordination Panel proposed by the Sheriff are representatives from the Police Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, county administrative support personnel, and other municipal law enforcement executives. The Plan goes on to suggest that this panel, comprised solely of law enforcement agents, take on the highly specific, nuanced task of coordinating services and supervision for the returning prison population.
As research demonstrates, it would be entirely inappropriate for law enforcement agents to assume the role that the Sheriff’s Plan proposes. Potential harms to supervised individuals under this plan could include increased recidivism, relapse and mental deterioration. The harm would be felt not only by the probationers, but also the taxpayer in the form of the enormous costs of incarcerating “violated” probationers in the already overcrowded Los Angeles County jails.
One of the principal causes of the overcrowding in California’s prisons that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plata was the excessively high rate of recidivism among California parolees compared with the rest of the country. More than half of the reincarceration of parolees was for “technical violations.” Los Angeles County can ill afford to replicate California’s failures.
Events Are Moving Too Quickly for the Sheriff’s Department to Learn How to Take on Responsibilities it Has Never Previously Handled.
With thousands of persons being transferred from state supervision to the Los Angeles County in the near future, there is no time for the LASD to have on the job training on how properly to supervise probationers to maximize the chances that they will not violate and be reincarerated in the already-overcrowded LA County jails. LA County does not have the luxury of wasting precious resources on an experiment that no other county in the United States has tried.
Given the urgency of the state’s proposed prisoner release plan and the high stakes that come with such an endeavor, the ACLU of Southern California and Public Counsel request that the Board of Supervisors reaffirm its continued commitment to public safety and local government accountability by accepting the Probation Department’s Plan.
Hector Villagra, Executive Director, ACLU/SC
Clarissa Woo, Director of Policy Advocacy, ACLU/SC
Hernan Vera, Executive Director, Public Counsel
Laura Faer, Education Rights Director, Public Counsel
 See, e.g,., Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Community Corrections: The Principles of Effective Intervention 4 (National Institute of Corrections, 2004).
 Advancing a Strategic Plan for the implementation of AB 109 – Community Supervision Program Countywide: Los Angeles County Probation Department’s AB 109 Plan, June 10, 2011, at 24.
 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Community Supervision Proposal, Revised July 5, 2011, at 2.
 Joan Petersilia, A Retrospective View of Corrections Reform in the Schwarzenegger Administration, Vol. 22 Federal Sentencing Reporter No. 3 , 149 (2010).
 Amy Solomon et al., Putting Public Safety First: 13 Parole Supervision Strategies to Enhance Reentry Outcomes 14 (The Urban Institute 2008).
 Id. at 8, 36
 Advancing a Strategic Plan for the implementation of AB 109 – Community Supervision Program Countywide: Los Angeles County Probation Department’s AB 109 Plan, June 10, 2011, at 22.
 Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Community Corrections: The Principles of Effective Intervention 5 (National Institute of Corrections 2004)
 Peggy Burke and Michael Tonrey, Successful Programs for Reentry and Safer Communities: A Call to Action for Parole 29 (Center for Effective Public Policy 2006)
 Jeremy Travis, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute, Written testimony to the Commission, February 27, 2003. Michael P. Jacobson, Ph.D., Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York. Written testimony to the Commission, January 23, 2003; Little Hoover Commission: Back to the Community: Safe & Sound Parole Policies at xi (2003) ("Parole officials [in California] respond to most parole violations – minor or serious – with a return to prison, overcrowding prisons and increasing correctional costs, an expensive and temporary solution to a long-term problem.").
 Ryken Grattet, Joan Petersilia, Jeffrey Lin, Parole Violations and Revocations in California 5 (October 13, 2008).