Probation takes over supervision of alternative sentencing program | Local News
Persons serving a prison sentence under electronic monitoring are now monitored by the Santa Barbara County Probation Departmentand county supervisors hope the move will boost participation in the alternative sentencing program.
The Sheriff’s Department still has the power to screen applicants to serve their prison sentence under electronic monitoring instead of remaining in custody.
Beginning in July, the Probation Service took over the supervision of participants and linked them to programs and services.
The county has been evaluating options to reduce its prison population, and a strong alternative sentencing program is one way to do that.
The alternative sentencing program requires people to serve their prison sentence under electronic monitoring.
It’s like house arrest, says the head of the probation department, Tanja Heitman, and people are generally not allowed to leave their homes except to go to work and carry out “key responsibilities”.
When the criminal realignment passed in 2011, it pushed more people to serve time in county jails who previously would have been in state jails. The county anticipated that more low-risk people in custody would be transferred to alternative sentences under electronic monitoring, Heitman said.
“And that’s been happening for a while, the numbers have been going up, but more recently they’ve come down and a lot of that has been attributed to a change in the prison population” and policies like zero bail, said she declared.
The sheriff’s department, which decides who is eligible for alternative sentencing, did not find many inmates qualified for the program, she said.
The Board of Supervisors asked the two departments to collaborate on a program, Heitman said, and a memorandum of understanding was drafted with an effective date of July 1.
(Artwork by Giana Magnoli/Noozhawk)
Turnout numbers were fairly flat for several years, then dipped in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Then, in 2020 and beyond, court closures and changes to booking criteria affected the totals, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick.
There were between 35 and 80 people in the program at any one time in 2021, depending on the Sheriff’s Department Data Dashboard.
Factors the Sheriff’s Department considers for program eligibility include, according to Zick: “Criminal history, risk factors for recidivism, location of residence, past or present behavior while in custody, pending charges, whether the courts have approved the person to serve on the program, they have a working phone and voice mail so we can communicate with them, circumstances of the crime, pre-sentence reports.
All requests for alternative sentences are considered, but in general, people with misdemeanor and felony convictions for drugs, theft and impaired driving might be eligible for alternative sentences, Zick said.
Sheriff’s Lt. Selim Celmeta speaks at the Aug. 30 board of supervisors meeting when the county extended the GPS ankle monitor contract for the alternative sentencing program. (photo Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk)
On August 30, the Supervisory Board extended his contract with Satellite People Tracking LLC for the GPS ankle monitors used in the alternative sentencing program.
There were 65 people in the program at the time, Sheriff’s Lt. Selim Celmeta told supervisors.
Supervisor Gregg Hart pointed out that the Sheriff’s Department had not enrolled enough people in the program to use all the money allocated to the STOP contract since 2016. There was $170,000 left of a $900,000 budget.
He said the alternative sentencing program is an important way to reduce the number of people incarcerated and that the council wants to increase participation.
County supervisors Gregg Hart, left, and Das Williams said expanding the alternative sentencing program was a key strategy to reduce the long-term population of people incarcerated at the county’s two jails. (photo Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk)
“Hopefully with this next four-year contract, we don’t end up with money on the table,” Hart said.
Celmeta said the number of participants had decreased due to the pandemic and the changing prison population.
“As we speak, we’re actually at an all-time high of people being convicted and serving time in county jails, which is affecting the number of people in the program,” he said.
Taking over supervision from the probation service will give the sheriff’s custodial staff more time to recruit potential participants, distribute applications and interview people, Celmeta said.
“I’m a bit concerned that the numbers are going down so much in this program,” Supervisor Bob Nelson said. “It seems like something we should try to move towards as a county.”
The program also saves money, Nelson said: STOP ankle monitors cost $3.10 per person per day compared to the costs of having someone in jail. Even after factoring in staff selection and supervision, it likely costs a lot less than keeping someone in jail, which was estimated at $148 per person per day in 2020.
“This is a vital and key strategy for the sustainability of our public safety services,” Supervisor Das Williams said.
Sheriff’s Lt. Selim Celmeta and Chief of Probation Tanja Heitman answer questions at the Aug. 30 board meeting. (photo Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk)
“…Our ability to arrest and detain people who really belong in prison depends on our ability to have the discretion of other sentencing opportunities for people who might have better outcomes not in prison.”
Getting people out of prison allows them to participate in community programs like anger management and substance abuse treatment sooner, Heitman said.
The probation service already has relationships and contracts with local providers and staff who deal with case management, she added.
“The sooner we start the program, the sooner they can benefit from it and help reduce their risk of reoffending,” Heitman said.
“And with any of our criminal justice members, finding them a job, helping them keep their job or helping them further their education are the two biggest things we can do to help minimize their risk of recidivism, and people can do both more successfully than they can in prison,” she said.
The Probation Department also runs a pre-trial monitoring program for people whose criminal cases have not been resolved, as well as the probation monitoring program.
Some people in these groups have GPS devices, but Heitman said they had much more freedom of movement than people in the alternative sentencing program.
People on alternative sentences receive custody credits the same way they would for a prison sentence, which is why they are closely monitored, she added.
Previously, people had to pay a fee to participate, but now the program is available at no cost, she said.