Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the radical overhaul of California's criminal justice system, and Alameda County can point to some success as it absorbed thousands of felons with few guidelines or information from the state.
"We created the road map," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said. "We didn't know what we were going to have until we were in it."
Although Alameda County was already sending 30 percent fewer people to prison than the state average, the county still managed to cut new prison admissions by 39 percent during the first nine months of prison realignment.
But the first year uncovered some problems with realignment and highlighted the challenges criminal justice authorities will face as it enters the second year.
Realignment was meant to reduce the number of prison inmates and save the state money by putting low-level offenders under local supervision, either through probation or county jails.
Alameda County expects to take on 1,200 felons during the first three years of realignment. So far, 806 have come under county authority, and nearly half of those are from Oakland. Just under 10 percent are from Hayward, and the rest are from other cities and unincorporated areas. There are 656 active cases, either on probation or serving out their sentences in the county jails. About 13 percent -- 101 -- of the realigned felons have been arrested for new crimes or have not reported to authorities. .
Many inmates put under county supervision had histories of substance abuse and mental health problems and had no stable home or work history. Their problems became the responsibility of Alameda County, which established re-entry programs and transition centers at Santa Rita Jail, where they were enrolled in health care plans and housing and drug programs.
Former Probation Chief David Muhammad called realignment an "opportunity," although he also complained bitterly about the lack of funding. The county successfully lobbied to get funding increased from $9 million in the first year to $29 million for the second.
By the time the increased funding was secured, though, Muhammad had left his position in the midst of sexual harassment allegations. His replacement, LaDonna Harris, was left to implement the plan that Muhammad had helped craft.
In the midst of the transition, the department -- traditionally the most underfunded among public safety agencies -- began absorbing the additional caseload. The already-thin probation department staff had to adjust to a new approach: rehabilitation of its inmates, rather than the traditional "trail 'em and nail 'em," or watching for violations that would land probationers back in prison.
Realignment also was tough on local police departments.
Some offenders eligible to avoid or leave prison through realignment have a history of more serious crimes. The realigned felons, who have been convicted of nonviolent, nonsex offenses, were thrust on the local police departments without adequate staffing and support, Newark police Cmdr. Tom Milner said.
The focus has been on reaction instead of prevention, Milner said.
"The concept and direction are there," he added. "But when you open 6,500 jail and prison doors, it's tough for government agencies to shift themselves, especially when multiple agencies are involved."
Even before realignment, questions were raised about the performance of some of nonprofit organizations chosen to deliver services for felons, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson said last week after O'Malley had given the board of supervisors a one-year update.
The Community Corrections Partnership, a coalition of agencies involved in the realignment, is trying to get a system in place that makes the process faster and better, O'Malley said.
The first year was about building an infrastructure, O'Malley said. "We're going to see some big changes" in the second year, she said.
Total inmates under Alameda County supervision: 806
Transferred to other county: 57
Active cases: 656
Total pending release: 92
City: number realigned, percent
Alameda: 15, 1.9 percent
Albany: 0, 0 percent
Berkeley: 35, 4.3 percent
Castro Valley: 10, 1.2 percent
Dublin: 4, 0.5 percent
Emeryville: 2, 0.2 percent
Fremont: 39, 4.8 percent
Hayward: 78, 9.7 percent
Livermore: 13, 1.6 percent
Newark: 17, 2.1 percent
Oakland: 393, 48.8 percent
Pleasanton: 7, 0.9 percent
San Leandro: 40, 5.0 percent
San Lorenzo: 12, 1.5 percent
Sunol: 0 0.0 percent
Union City: 17, 2.1 percent
No City Listed: 39. 4.8 percent
Other County: 85, 10.5 percent
Total Violations Filed: 253
No Show (Never reported to probation): 82
AWOL (Initially reported, then stopped reporting): 70
New Arrest and Violated: 94
New Arrest/No Show (New Arrest/Never Reported): 7
Source: Alameda County Probation Department