«From Inception to Implementation: How SACPA has affected the Case Processing and Sentencing of Drug Offenders in One California County DISSERTATION ...»
In addition to the major tasks described above, core stakeholders had a multitude of less contentious and less time-consuming tasks as well. One in particular, training key practitioners, merits discussion. Once the structure was laid out and eligibility criteria were established, core stakeholders trained panel court judges and other key courtroom actors on how to identify and process Prop36 qualified cases.
Training sessions were held at courthouses throughout the county and every panel court judge was expected to attend. Unfortunately these training sessions, run by key stakeholders (including a judge), were only slightly successful. In some cases the training sessions were sparsely attended and/or filled with uninterested or distracted participants. As one stakeholder pointed out, “judges don’t like to be told what to do…they like to interpret on their own.” So, although core stakeholders attempted to “get judges on the same page” prior to implementation, it did not happen as they had hoped.
Judges and District Attorneys exercised a lot of discretion when it came to Prop36. This issue will be discussed in detail in the court results chapter. However, it is important to point out here that “quite a few” defendants were sentenced to Prop36 even though they did not qualify (either because of a concurrent offense or their past criminal history). A few offenders were not sentenced to Prop36 despite being qualified, but this seemed to occur less frequently than the reverse scenario. These mis-sentenced cases had implications for every agency involved in Prop36, especially in the beginning. Key stakeholders tracked inappropriately sentenced cases and “were making copies of minute orders left and right and taking them to the various court administrators, saying …’this probably shouldn’t have happened’” in an effort to educate/re-educate key courtroom actors on qualifying case characteristics (Confidential Informant). Education/re-education was a burden on core stakeholders;
but the added strain these inappropriate cases placed on the system was even more problematic due to the sheer volume of cases and the level of criminal sophistication that some of the offenders displayed.
Core stakeholders encountered many obstacles as they moved forward to implement a law that was disliked, if not despised by many criminal justice practitioners. Some of the hindrances were expected, many were unanticipated. Some dragged on for years after initial implementation. Some of the obstacles were relatively small and easy to negotiate while others were much larger and required considerable tenacity to overcome. In some cases, adequate solutions were never truly identified. Core group members relied on their personal commitment and group strengths to surmount the obstacles and implement their shared vision for Prop36.
Two types of hurdles were identified and will be discussed –implementation hurdles and workgroup hurdles. Implementation hurdles are obstacles that core stakeholders had to react to during the implementation process, issues that arose as a result of the law, or funding, etc. Workgroup hurdles are obstacles that involved workgroup dynamics – concerns such as trust, personality issues, etc.
Some of the implementation hurdles that core stakeholders dealt with were discussed in preceding paragraphs, including: insufficient money, vague legislation, navigating confidentiality laws, getting treatment providers access to the shared database and training them how to use it, negotiating eligibility criteria, educating judges on eligibility criteria, and getting courtroom actors to consistently apply eligibility criteria, amongst other things. In addition to the above, other implementation obstacles the core group had to work around included: getting a courtroom, negotiating out-of-county transfers, the unexpected number and addiction severity of offenders, and the negative attitude of many practitioners.
Securing a courtroom Once it was decided that all Prop36 cases would be monitored in one courtroom, there was the issue of finding a courtroom and adapting that courtroom to the needs of Prop36. Getting a workable courtroom was a more complicated and political process than one, not accustomed to court politics, would expect. As one stakeholder pointed out, “when you get a courtroom, you’re taking a courtroom from some other type of work. [We] weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.” “We had to take this courtroom, but the work here had to be put elsewhere…. Where do you find a courtroom for all this court work? That would upset people who had to move.
Everyone’s very territorial.” Once they got the courtroom, they then needed to figure out how to transport and accommodate the prisoners in custody. This is just one example of the incredible logistics involved in implementing this law.
Unexpected Offenders After the law had been in effect for a short while it was apparent that the number of offenders being sentenced to Prop36 probation exceeded the estimates.
Core stakeholders found themselves having to develop solutions for problems that were unanticipated, at the agency, county, and state levels. One issue that Orange County (and many other counties) experienced was more severely addicted offenders who required long term, intensive treatment. Although this issue was briefly mentioned earlier, it is important to reiterate because it created more dilemmas for practitioners than any other issue and forced core stakeholders to search for solutions.
As previously mentioned, HCA had to decrease the time offenders spent in treatment and had to steer offenders into the most economical, indicated treatment option so that
orchestrate their entire response to Prop36 and the court had to alter ideal practices in order to accommodate all the probation violation hearings and monitoring review sessions that were necessary with this population41. As a result of this, stakeholders had to spend a lot of time making adjustments to the county plan. The scope and nature of these changes would have been unnecessary if the actual number and the addiction-severity of offenders more closely matched expectations. Surprisingly, not all counties had significantly more offenders than they expected (some had significantly fewer). Many counties had a very difficult time correctly estimating how many Prop36 clients would need to served, as evidenced by the widely divergent yearto-year estimates that counties submitted to ADP (Ford and Smith, 2001; Ford, 2003;
Ford and Hauser, 2004).
County Transfers Unlike other issues that were settled at the county level – between core stakeholders – the issue of out-of-county transfers required the state to intervene and set policy. The term “out-of-county transfer” refers to a person who is arrested in one county but who lives in another county. This is a common situation that is usually not problematic – typically the sentencing county supervises the offender unless the resident county agrees to do so (which often happens with geographically distant Probation and court responses will be described in detail in following chapters.
counties)42. For example, someone who lives in Los Angeles but was arrested, convicted and sentenced in Orange County would typically be supervised by Orange County, unless Los Angeles County agreed to supervise the case. What made this situation problematic with Prop36 clients was the treatment component. Treatment was expensive, supervision was expensive and SACPA funds were scarce. No county was willing to voluntarily accept (and pay for) treatment and supervision of offenders who were arrested outside their jurisdiction. Of course, there were also the issues of monitoring the offender and getting them into appropriate treatment near their residence. It was a bureaucratic nightmare that disproportionately affected Orange County (due to the large tourist industry). Eventually the state mandated that the “county of residence” would accept all Prop36 offenders sentenced in other jurisdictions and would pay for their treatment. This relieved some of the fiscal and resource pressure on Orange County.
Practitioner attitudes One of the anticipated issues that core stakeholders had to navigate was the negative attitude most practitioners had toward Proposition 36. As we shall see many, if not most, criminal justice practitioners viewed it as “a get out of jail free card” for undeserving offenders. They felt the law was too lenient and that it lacked the “stick” required to motivate offenders to stop using drugs. These staunchly held beliefs proved difficult to get beyond and made training and implementing the new procedures challenging.
In such cases, the sentencing county assumes financial responsibility for supervision costs.
Much can be learned by examining how this group worked together, despite its differences, to overcome hurdles and implement one of the largest criminal justice policy changes in California’s history. Some of the main obstacles the core group had to work around included: difficult personalities, a lack of trust between members, confidentiality issues, and the competing goals of core agencies. Furthermore, some stakeholders were concerned that other stakeholders would not “play nice” on a large scale. The core agencies and actors had learned to play well in the small, confined environment of drug court, which served approximately 500 offenders per year, county-wide. However, there was concern that this attitude of cooperation would not extend to the larger environment of Proposition 36 (approximately 3,500 offenders per year). As one stakeholder said, Even with the benefit and prior history of having successful drug courts in the county, one of the issues was how well all of the agencies would work together on a more broad scale. [We] had a conversation about that… and [another stakeholder said to me] ‘we’re a little leery doing it on a broader base because in the drug courts we know the judges really well, we know all the players more intimately, but now we’re talking on a much broader scale.’ So there was some concern about how well we would all play together as a group…. We took steps so that agencies continued to work effectively together on this scale, just as we had on a smaller scale with drug court.
This concern primarily reflected an acknowledgment of the differences in populations served – Orange County drug courts served hand-selected and motivated drug offenders, while Proposition 36 served (almost) anyone who wanted it.
Furthermore, because of the onerousness of the program, drug court was seen as a suitable “alternative to incarceration”, it was seen as punishment, whereas Proposition 36 was seen as a “get out of jail free card.” Ultimately, the difference between drug court and Prop36 was, Prop36 was an entitlement. You didn’t have to do anything except be arrested for the right offense to get Prop36. Drug court, you had to be willing to accept the ramifications of the program in order to participate. The difference was that you got people who were motivated to participate in drug court.
Core stakeholders had to draw upon group strengths to develop trust between agencies and actors with very different philosophical viewpoints in order to build bridges where none existed prior to Prop36 implementation and strengthen the bridges that were weak when the process began. Despite the hurdles, practitioners in Orange County came together to “make it work.”
Core stakeholders identified and used their pre-existing strengths to overcome obstacles that arose during the implementation process. As previously mentioned, Orange County benefited immensely from having a working drug court. The drug court model came to Orange County in 1995 and was well established and successful prior to the passage of Proposition 36. This was a major asset because, unlike counties that did not have a drug court, collaborators in Orange County were already working together successfully. Key stakeholders were accustomed to collaborating and working through their agencies’ differences for the sake of the client.
Orange County is far more experienced in collaborative models than a lot of locations. For us to come to the table wasn’t new. Drug court was already running and all of those people were at the same table for drug court….Didn’t mean we still didn’t have our issues, but I think we’re more experienced at that than a lot of other places. I know other counties that you would hear ‘there was no way their public defender was going to sit down at the same table with the district attorney and probation.’ While we certainly had our issues, the idea of sitting down at the table wasn’t foreign to us at all.
Experience with drug court also fostered a teamwork approach and a “we can make this work attitude” which were crucial for successful planning and implementation, according to key stakeholders interviewed. Having participated in successful drug court collaborations allowed core members to persist and work past their (sometimes major) differences of opinion during the planning and implementation stages of Proposition 36. Having this strong base and shared vision turned out to be indispensable as the team encountered obstacles from all sides.