«From Inception to Implementation: How SACPA has affected the Case Processing and Sentencing of Drug Offenders in One California County DISSERTATION ...»
just prolong it for sentencing until Prop36 became law and they’d get Prop36. So the trial was just a waste. … Both sides had to look at their position that this wasn’t going to be good for the clients.
As Judge Day saw it, no one benefitted from waiting. He believed the best solution was to conduct a pilot study prior to the official implementation of Proposition 36 to reveal the issues that had to be worked out, as well as to move eligible offenders through the system prior to July 1, 2001 to avoid the anticipated bottleneck. Other key stakeholders agreed and credited him with “excellent judgment and foresight” on this issue. Although not a supporter of the measure he (and others) felt it was their duty to implement Proposition 36 as best they could, as that is what California voters wanted and what the offenders were entitled to. “Whether we liked it or not, we felt obligated to make it work. That’s the law. We had to get on board” (Confidential Informant ECV, personal communication). In order to do this, key stakeholders came together to discuss the various issues associated with implementation and to develop a strategy to proceed.
Informal meetings with a core group of key stakeholders (primarily Drug Court managers) began in November or December, 2000. This core group tackled the immense task of organizing and structuring Proposition 36, from scratch. They had to address questions regarding eligible offenses, program structure, case flow, client flow, and supervision. They had to create procedures and pathways for collaboration and information sharing between agencies and actors not accustomed to collaborating (at least not on a large scale). They had to do this while navigating numerous obstacles and relying upon group strengths to build trust and move forward.
The core group included a representative (or two) from Orange County’s Health Care Agency (HCA), Probation Department, District Attorney’s Office (DA), Public Defender’s Office (PD), and Superior Court (SC), the same agenies that were (and are) involved in drug court in Orange County. This small, core group of stakeholders had experience working together, which proved extremely beneficial (according to every stakeholder interviewed).
Core stakeholder meetings progressively picked up speed and members in early to mid 2001. The pilot study began sometime in the beginning of 2001 and ended on June 30, 2001. Key stakeholders had difficulty remembering the exact start date, but the most likely start date was March 1, 2001 (four months prior to the official Prop36 implementation date). The “pilot program was the first definitive plans that the county took to implement Prop36.” As part of the pilot study, district attorneys and public defenders identified eligible offenders using criteria set out in Proposition
36. They then offered these eligible offenders a sentence of probation with a condition of drug treatment; a sentence equivalent to Proposition 36. Practitioners in Orange County used the pilot study as a “dry-run” for when the legislation took effect. “It [the pilot program] allowed us to work through a lot of the issues before the implementation went through. It allowed us to see what some of the real-life problems were going to be” (Confidential Informant).
Additional stakeholders began taking a more active role in implementation planning sometime around February or March, 2001. The small group of core stakeholders (5 or 6 people) who planned the pilot study grew into a semi-official “Prop36 implementation planning group” of approximately 20-30 members around this time34. Additional stakeholders from agencies already involved were incorporated, as were representatives from the Sheriff’s Department35, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – Parole Division36, and the County Executive’s Office (CEO). Additional interested stakeholders involved themselves from time to time and attended meetings occasionally as well. Together this group made decisions that would impact hundreds of practitioners and thousands of offenders throughout the county.
With the pilot program up and running, core stakeholders turned their full attention to the main issues that had to be resolved prior to the official launch of Prop36 on July 1, 2001. There were several key aspects of Proposition 36 that the implementation team needed to come to a consensus on and carry out (each of which will be discussed in detail below). First37, they needed to decide on a structure for the processing of Proposition 36 defendants from conviction through completion of treatment and supervision, including an agreement of qualifying offenses and an estimate of the number of offenders expected to be processed. Second, they needed to On July 1, 2001 an official SACPA oversight committee was formed. This committee acted as an advisory board only and was not a decision-making body. This was a requirement set by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.
It is also possible the Orange County Peace Officer’s Association had a representative as well.
Stakeholders interviewed recalled non-OCSD law enforcement officers at some of the meetings but could not recall who the law enforcement representative/s were or which organization (city police department or union) they represented.
The parole representative was a military reservist who was called to active duty shortly after the 9.11.01 terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, this was essentially the end of parole’s involvement in the process.
I have chosen to put the tasks in numerical order for organization purposes only. In reality, these tasks were addressed simultaneously.
determine how information would flow between agencies as well as create a mechanism for sharing that information between agencies (including individual treatment providers) in a timely manner. Third, they needed to establish treatment requirements and determine which treatment modalities would be available to Prop36 clients. Fourth, they needed to decide how SACPA funds would be distributed between the agencies involved. They also needed to address a multitude of other issues prior to and during implementation, such as project the number of offenders they expected to enroll in Prop36 and train key practitioners (judges, DA’s, PD’s, treatment providers) in the new law. On top of this, several key stakeholders also had to create new protocols and procedures within their own agencies for handling these offenders as well (and train affected personnel).
The enormity of the project was evident. In order to accomplish the goal, the group established sub-committees for the major tasks. Each core stakeholder served on at least one sub-committee, and often times two or three. Some of these subcommittees were: the shared data system, confidentiality issues, qualifying offenders/offenses, and treatment services. In addition to the frequent sub-committee meetings, core stakeholders also attended regularly scheduled implementation planning meetings as well. As one core stakeholder stated, “this core group of individuals lived and breathed Prop36. It seemed like we were constantly in meetings.
Literally I would see the same people three or four days a week in different locations.
I [spent] approximately 70% of my time on Prop36 and everything else [took] a backseat…for two years” (Confidential Informant DAK, personal communication) U
In deciding upon a structure for Proposition 36, many options were considered.
Ultimately, core stakeholders aimed to create a structure that was efficient and effective for practitioners and offenders alike. Based on prior experience with drug offenders and reading the legislation, stakeholders anticipated that this group of offenders would likely require numerous “report backs” to the court for progress monitoring and adjudication of expected probation violations. As far as structure, key stakeholders had several viable options to choose from (all of which are in place in counties throughout the state). The “report backs” could be contained in one “Prop36” specialty court or spread across several “Prop36” specialty courts located throughout the county. Alternatively, they could be spread across multiple, non-specialty felony and misdemeanor panel courts. The text of the law gave counties wide latitude in implementing Proposition 36.
At the time that Orange County practitioners were meeting to create the structure for Proposition 36 cases and develop a pilot program (December 2000/January 2001), there was no formal dialogue between counties or the state – Orange County was on it’s own at this point38. However, as previously stated, core stakeholders were convinced that starting early was important for Orange County. As one core stakeholder said, “we weren’t sure if different ideas were going to come from the state or not, but [we] didn’t think we could just wait around.… We just needed to get started. Once we got things going in the courtroom, then there were still more Eventually the state organized semi-annual technical training conferences to bring practitioners together to share ideas and experiences.
things to be worked out. At least we had the thing going” (Confidential Informant ECV, personal communication).
Orange County chose to structure Proposition 36 like drug court as much as possible. This was natural, as all core members had experience with drug court as it existed in Orange County, and all members had positive feelings about it. Drug court was a model they could easily “take off the shelf” and modify for this new legislation and new population. Key stakeholders thus made the important decision to have one courtroom with a dedicated staff for all felony Proposition 36 offenders39. This meant there would be one judge responsible for monitoring all felony Proposition 36 offenders. The model would encourage consistency between offenders and would provide the presiding judge with a holistic view of the program and the offenders in the program. The judge could make adjustments as necessary to ensure the highest level of success possible for offenders and could react to the varying numbers of offenders processing through the court at any given time by altering procedures and practices. Furthermore, having the same attorneys, probation, court, and health care staff on a daily basis would provide stability and would encourage efficiency. A single court model would eliminate “judge shopping” by defendants, would be less confusing for other practitioners, and would be less costly for agencies both in terms of staffing and resources.
The group also had to set guidelines for which “non-violent drug possession” offenses and which offenders would qualify for Proposition 36 sentencing. The Based on the estimated number of offenders, core stakeholders felt one court could handle the entire felony Prop36 population.
District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office took the lead on this task.
According to several stakeholders, this was a very contentious issue that on at least one occasion involved a “shouting match.” There were many disagreements about how concurrent offenses and/or past criminal history would impact a defendant’s eligibility for diversion. “One day we almost had a big impasse where we had eight or nine or eleven DA’s on one side and the same number of public defenders, and oh my god, they wanted to combat. Finally everybody said, ‘We can make this work.’ The public defender said that. When that was said, it just all seemed to come together” (Confidential Informant). This was a turning point that was, at least partially, made possible by the public defender’s prior experience with drug court collaborations (Confidential Informant).
Core stakeholders gathered information from multiple sources in an attempt to estimate the impact that Prop36 would have on the criminal justice system in Orange County. How many offenders would need to be monitored in court on a monthly basis? How many additional probationers would need to be supervised? How many offenders would need treatment and what type of treatment would the offenders most likely need? The answers to these questions would be used to guide implementation and make crucial service delivery decisions. Research analysts from the probation department calculated an estimate based on the number of probationers on probation in early 2001 for SACPA-eligible offenses. The courts, district attorney, public defenders office, parole and jail also tried to estimate what the impact would be on their respective agencies. The official estimate of the number of offenders expected to receive treatment during the first year was 4,157 (3,500 probationers and 657 parolees) (Ford and Smith, 2001).
One of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive tasks of the implementation process was information sharing between agencies. Beyond basic computer networking and hardcopy paperwork processing issues the team had to navigate strict confidentiality laws that impeded the entire process. The process was wrought with obstacles, including both fiscal and time constraints, technical limitations, confidentiality issues and distrust between core stakeholders. As one stakeholder said, it was akin to “negotiating the Israeli peace agreement because it was that contentious.” The planning and implementation process was aggravated by the fact that they had “very different philosophical groups” involved in the collaboration process and often times they did not want to share information with one another for various reasons. For example, health care representatives did not want to share client’s urine analysis results or treatment progress because they were concerned that probation officers would simply arrest everyone for non-compliance. Certainly there was the issue about what information could be shared legally, but there was also a major concern about what probation (or the court) would do with the information if Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) shared it (Confidential Informant).