«From Inception to Implementation: How SACPA has affected the Case Processing and Sentencing of Drug Offenders in One California County DISSERTATION ...»
The folks in the department, “Oh God, it’s the 1210 case” or “Oh God, it’s coming from 1210.” Because some of the paperwork [would] leave our unit and it wouldn’t be in perfect order. I was constantly ramming heads with other supervisors because, “Oh this case wasn’t in perfect order when I got it.” “Do you know why it’s not in perfect order? Because the officer has 300 cases and she’s lucky she got out what she got out.” [And they’d say] “Well, I’m not going to accept it.” … It finally got to the point where I would bang out the “Walk a mile in our moccasins” emails before you bitch and moan about a piece of paper being upside down on the wrong side of the file. Eventually, that kind of died down.
The size of the caseloads also strained officers emotionally. Officers reported being overwhelmed by the amount of work that accompanied the large Prop36 caseloads. The sense of frustration and being overwhelmed was palpable in the interviews. One probation officer said to me, “I should have taken a picture…We were up at 600 cases [on our caseload]. At one point [Probation Officer X] had files piled all over her office. They were up on the filing cabinets, in boxes… Her office was completely full, piles up to the ceiling. I never really thought of it, but I should’ve taken a picture; before and after.” (Confidential Informant DND, personal communication) They [PC1210 Officers] were very busy. It’s like they didn’t have time to breathe, they were always going.
overwhelmed. These are people who are committed to doing the right thing and you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t keep up. You couldn’t see everybody you wanted to see. The field aspect of it was just out the window. They couldn’t get out and do the fieldwork because the volume is so amazing.
Some of the unexpected issues: we were burning our staff out. I’m not a “type A”, I’m a “type B.” I’m one of these, “Hey, if you can’t get it done today, it’ll be here tomorrow.” We had a lot of people around here that are “type A,” they cannot leave something undone.
It kills them that they can’t get it all done. I used to chase people out of the office. You’re not going to get it all done today. “Oh, but I have to.” “No, you have a wife and kids, a husband, go home, get out of here. This will be here tomorrow.” It would absolutely kill them that they would have to leave some of the stuff undone. I’m like, “Hey, it’s gonna be here tomorrow.” We’d have some of the female staff [who] would come in and they’d just be teary-eyed that they can’t get it all done. We would tell them, “Nobody expects you to get it all done. Your evaluation isn’t going to say you were a poor staff because you can’t get this mound of work done that we’re asking you to do.” It was obvious that something needed to be done about the large caseloads or the department was going to lose staff. According to one probation officer, new ideas to relieve caseload pressures “pretty much developed out of frustration from the chaos that was inflicted by the volume of cases that we were getting” (Confidential Informant DND, personal communication). Supervisors felt the strain as well, as one supervisor put it, “To have someone break down in front of me crying [was difficult]. As a manager, I remember feeling so overwhelmed, like, “Why can’t I figure this out and make this work?” At the same time, I can look around the state and see that they were doing the same thing.” (Confidential Informant DAK, personal communication). Based on conversations with stakeholders involved in implementation, these problems were not unique to Orange County, but they were not universal around the state either.
In Orange County, we made a commitment to supervise these [Prop36] cases, to try to supervise these cases. Some counties didn’t, they just banked them and played strictly an administrative role from their Probation standpoint. We made a decision to try and actually provide supervision to them, which exacerbated our problems because the numbers were such that we couldn’t effectively supervise them in the same way that we had other cases.
OCPD’s original goal was to supervise all Prop36 offenders and provide services to help them get on the path toward success. Based on their prior collaborative experience with drug court, OCPD’s directors had idealistic goals for Prop36 and envisioned an opportunity to positively impact probationers’ lives and decrease crime in the county simultaneously. They planned to do everything they could to make it work. However, the overwhelming number of offenders on Prop36, combined with an edict from the County Controller that prohibited hiring more staff for Prop36 purposes led the department to re-define their goal to be identifying the offenders in need of supervision and making organizational and supervisory rule changes to relieve the pressure on probation officers.
We wanted to have people do the same thing with Prop36 cases that we do with regular adult cases. And for us that meant, like, have one probation officer responsible for 100 people. But once the Prop36 numbers got rolling, our ratio was one to 250 and so we couldn’t supervise in that way. And we just, people got overwhelmed and no, or very minimal, meaningful supervision took place. Very, very limited supervision took place. So that steered us into some changes.
Our goal was to move cases. Move cases. We got 300 more coming in next month; we need to move 300 more this month. Do what you got to do. When I was there, that was our primary focus, move cases.
The probation department had to find ways to adjust to the volume of offenders. Redefining their goal was the first step. From there, other ideas emerged to decrease caseloads to manageable levels. Three key strategies were imperative in reducing caseloads in the first few years; “banking” offenders (putting them on a “field monitored” caseload), petitioning the court to relieve supervision responsibilities, and assigning misdemeanor cases to HCA for supervision.
Established “Field Monitored” Caseload In spring 2003, the probation department made the decision to begin “banking” some Prop36 probationers. The department established “Field Monitored” (FM) caseloads for low, medium, and some high risk probationers.
Offenders placed on a “field monitored” (a.k.a. “banked”) caseload receive no meaningful services. These offenders meet with their Probation Officer (P.O.) once during an initial visit to review the terms and conditions of their probation but do not report in person beyond that. They are on “formal probation” and still have treatment requirements and all of the customary conditions, but they are not required to report to their probation officer on a regular basis. Contact between probation officer and probationer is maintained through the telephone or mail and the probation officer verifies treatment progress through the shared database.
The goal is to have regular field supervision caseloads of 100 probationers each. All misdemeanors and most felony Prop36 offenders are banked. Prior to 2004 the decision whether to bank was based on the circumstances of the case, the offender’s past criminal history, and a subjective assessment of probation risk.
Beginning in 2004, risk/need scores began being used to classify probationers. For Prop36 caseloads, all probationers who score less than 26 (on a scale of 0 to 39) are banked (this includes all medium and some high risk offenders). For regular (nonProp36) caseloads, only offenders who score below 12 are banked. So, offenders who score from 12 to 25 are not supervised on Prop36 caseloads but are supervised on regular caseloads. This is a direct result of the funding issue and may have implications for probationer success.
Although the department did not want to bank offenders, supervisors felt there was little choice, given the high caseloads, the added workload that resulted from the disbanded assessment unit, and the edict from the county C.E.O. to not spend county dollars on Prop36.
[Caseloads} were at like, one to 250 people. And people [probation officers] weren’t doing anything but being buried in paperwork. So that was when we made the decision, ‘We’re going to bank some of these cases and we’re going to try and identify the highest risks and we’re going to supervise them’.
We couldn’t [put more officers in the PC1210 units] because of an edict from the CEO, so we had to make that work with those people, which was very hard, very taxing on the Supervisor, very taxing on all of the DPOs [Deputy Probation Officers]. So that was why we decided we’re going to bank some, we’re going to try and identify and supervise the worst of the worst. So we started doing that and by supervising I mean face-to-face contact, going out to their homes, drug testing them at a higher frequency. Because when you’re at one to 250, it’s just a paperwork flow. All you’re doing is writing warrants and writing PV’s [Probation Violations].
The county wouldn’t fund any more officers to supervise Prop36 clients outside what’s provided by the state. We were funded, when I was there, for 18 officers. 18 officers had to deal with whatever amount of cases they had.… It was a complete mess. I sat down with the other supervisor and we tried to brainstorm a way … to manage this flood of cases that are coming in every month.… We decided we can have ten officers doing actual field supervision with 100 cases each. The rest of them we’ll put on a monitored caseload.
That’s the overflow that we just can’t handle.
Although not ideal, banking offenders was a satisfactory solution to the problem given the circumstances. As another supervisor explained, banking offenders “became a necessary survival tool for all of us. If you’ve got this many probation officers, and all of a sudden you’ve got this many cases, you can either supervise some of them and do an OK job, or you can accomplish nothing and have them all fall apart” (Confidential Informant DDA, personal communication). This solution was successful because it allowed eleven PC1210 officers to have standard size caseloads and to properly supervise their probationers, and it allowed seven officers to adequately manage much larger caseloads without the burden of supervision. Even with the change, however, Field Monitored (banked) caseloads were still very high75 and difficult to manage for a long time.
Petitioned court to “relieve supervision” In a continued effort to reach manageable caseload sizes, supervisors from the probation department negotiated with the court to relieve the probation department of supervision responsibilities for offenders who successfully completed treatment and met other criteria. In order to qualify for a “relief of supervision modification,” offenders must have completed treatment, are employed or in school full-time, have paid all their fees, and had no violations (no re-arrests, no positive
forenamed criteria, the officer files a “relief of supervision” modification petition with the court. If the court approves the petition, the officer removes that individual from their caseload and notifies them of the change. The individual is now on “informal” probation until they request dismissal of their case (12 months after their conviction). At year end 2007, slightly fewer than 600 offenders have been Estimates of how large the FM caseloads were at this time varied from 400 to 600 cases per officer.
removed from probation using this tool. Compared to banking offenders, this change has had a small impact on overall caseload sizes, yet probation officers continue to view it as an important case management tool.
Misdemeanor cases supervised by HCA Unlike most misdemeanor offenders who have always been sentenced to informal (a.k.a. summary or court) probation, misdemeanor drug offenders sentenced under Proposition 36 were sentenced to formal probation when the law first went into effect. The difference is that adults on informal probation are only on probation to the court and are not typically supervised by probation. The difference reflected the probation department’s desire to supervise these cases. As the probation department became overwhelmed and needed to reduce caseload sizes, it was apparent that placing misdemeanor drug offenders on informal probation was a potential solution.
In September 2004, a new policy that misdemeanor cases would be
misdemeanants would be sentenced to informal probation and HCA would monitor their treatment progress. Because misdemeanor cases represent approximately 20%
- 30% of all new Prop36 cases, this change was expected to slow the growth of caseloads immediately. According to probation officers it had a significant impact on caseloads. In the three years since the policy took effect (September 2004 to December 2007), HCA has monitored 3,567 misdemeanor Prop36 probationers (Orange County Probation Department PC1210 Monthly Report, December 2007).
This represents approximately 1,100 fewer offenders per year that the probation department had to supervise, and equates to a reduction in workload of between three and ten probation officers, depending on whether most of the offenders would have been placed on a field supervised or a field monitored caseload.