«From Inception to Implementation: How SACPA has affected the Case Processing and Sentencing of Drug Offenders in One California County DISSERTATION ...»
from the state to cover supervision costs and OCPD was able to assign more officers to the PC1210 units. When the law went into effect, there were 18 officers (22 staff total) assigned to the two PC1210 units. Between 2003 and 2005, the department added six officers to the units so that at one point there were 24 officers assigned to Prop36 cases. Although the increase in staff helped further reduce caseloads, the staffing level did not last for long, as workload changes demanded that officers be reassigned to other units. The staffing level has varied between 18 and 24 officers for several years. As of May 2008, there are only 16 officers assigned to work Prop36 cases (down from the original 18) (Confidential Informant DND, personal communication). The workload, however, also seems to have diminished slightly according to probation officers. This may be partially attributable to fewer offenders entering probation, but is probably also because the probation officers are much more efficient at clearing cases now than they were when Prop36 was first implemented. PC1210 officers have become accustomed to the continuously changing nature of the assignment and as one probation officer who views staffing levels with an appropriate amount of humor and irony stated, “just as our caseloads get smaller and we start doing more with them, they go up again” (Confidential Informant DND, personal communication).
enormous, supervisors became very creative in their attempts to decrease caseloads.
Some supervisors tried to reduce caseload sizes by invoking the assistance of law enforcement officers. These supervisors recognized that many law enforcement officers did not understand Proposition 36 or the tools it provided, namely that most offenders on Prop36 probation are on formal probation with full search terms.
Probation officers empathize with law enforcement officers’ frustrations with Prop36, but emphasize that Prop36 provides tools that can help law enforcement officers do their job more efficiently. Most officers, however, are not aware of and do not use these tools as often as they could. Thus, some supervisors took the initiative to train law enforcement officers about Proposition 36 and the tools available to them in hopes of working with law enforcement officers to hold offenders accountable and serve warrants on noncompliant probationers.
I used to go in there [to police briefings] and say, “Here’s how you can make the system work for you so these guys aren’t out before you get your report turned in to your sergeant.” That was my focus…. I used to tell them that we can’t put a hold on somebody if it’s strictly a drug-related offense. I used to tell them, if they give you false ID, you need to write that in there and let them know because that’s not a drug-related offense. … We can hold him for that … But if you call me up and say, “We found so-and-so in a motel. He’s got a pocket full of dope. I want a hold.” I can’t do it.
You need to find something else. Don’t create something, but if you’ve got the elements of a 148, 140.9...
I would just go into my speech about, “If you find somebody on Prop36 probation, fine, you still got a search order. If you want to toss his car or his stuff or whatever, you can do it, just call his probation officer and verify he’s got the search order. You’re free to toss his stuff.” A lot of times, the [Probation] officers are looking for these guys. Call the probation officer and we’ll give you the most current address that we got. It might not be the one that you got.
officers had difficultly providing the high level of supervision that was necessary for clients with special needs, in particular those offenders with diagnosed mental illness. Just as these offenders were “falling through the cracks” in the courtroom, they were also “falling through the cracks” at the probation department. The Dual Diagnosis Drug Court was funded by a grant that also funded a probation officer to supervise the participants. This program was so successful that another drug court (Intensive Twelve-Ten) was created to work with Prop36 clients that required more intense supervision and accountability. Both programs are capped at 50 participants, which allow the probation officers and court staff to keep close tabs on each offender. The goal of these special caseloads is to increase the success rate of clients in these programs. It is another method used by the probation department to identify and provide supervision for those offenders most in need of it.
The large number of Prop36 offenders not only caused case management problems for the probation department, it also created challenges for drug testing offenders as well. Prior to and at the start of Prop36, the probation department conducted drug testing on Mondays at the department. While this established routine worked well prior to Prop36, it fell apart shortly after the law took effect.
The problem was that there were so many people that needed to be tested that there was not enough room for all of them in the building. The fire marshal ordered the department to limit the number of people on testing days because the lobbies of several area offices were over capacity and fire hazards.
It used to be that in every area office, Monday was the primary adult drop-in day because we wanted to catch people the day after the weekend and test them. But the numbers became so overwhelming;
we couldn’t support that many people coming in on one day. We had to split the drop-in days. … We were getting 800-1200 people coming in the office on Mondays. It overwhelmed the reception staff. It overwhelmed the physical [building]. You’re exceeding obviously the fire code with the number of people. I was out of the west county office and that office is a leased building. We shared the building with the Department of Education, the District Attorney’s Office. The other tenants were complaining because people were spilling out of our office and into the hallway and outside. The trash they generated; they’re trampling on the flowers, dropping their cigarette butts everywhere. The numbers were overwhelming in every regard.
Additionally, “offenders are about 75-80% male, 25-20% female. Yet the ranks of probation officers are more like 65% female and 35% male” (Confidential Informant DAK, personal communication). This gender imbalance caused problems for the male staff on testing days because drug testing requires same sex observation of specimen collection. The men “would all want to run and hide because they spent the entire day in the bathroom testing” (Confidential Informant DAK, personal communication). In order to accommodate all of the probationers that required testing, the department staggered testing days. On Mondays, individuals on regular caseloads were drug tested and on Tuesdays, Prop36 probationers were tested. Beyond that, the department aggressively experimented with a variety of new testing instruments. “The goal was to get the guys out of the bathroom.” (Confidential Informant DAK, personal communication). This was one of the unexpected issues that resulted from Prop36.
Another issue the probation department had to resolve was the large number of warrants that were generated by Prop36 probationers. During sentencing, offenders would receive paperwork telling them where and when to report to the probation department and Health Care Agency. Many offenders, however, failed to report to either or both agencies and a warrant would be issued for their arrest. This strained the probation officers, who had to write and file the warrants.
When the probation department noted the problem, they tried some innovative solutions to address the issue and decrease the number of warrants: colocation, working with law enforcement, and working with treatment providers.
The first solution they implemented was co-locating HCA intake staff in the probation department and setting up a probation office in each of the courthouses throughout the county.
One of the responses, also, to the high warrant rate was to co-locate.
We put the Healthcare assessment team in our [Probation] offices because we were finding that we were losing a certain percentage [of offenders] from the courtroom to the probation office, and a certain percentage from the Probation office to the Healthcare office. So we brought Healthcare into our building so that it was kind of like onestop-shopping for them.
According to probation staff, co-locating agencies within each other worked well and the number of early warrants decreased remarkably. This, in turn, increased the number of offenders who entered treatment and decreased the workload strain on the PC1210 officers caused by early non-compliance. In addition to co-locating agencies within one another, the probation department also tried working with both law enforcement officers and treatment providers to locate non-compliant offenders and get them back into compliance. Unfortunately, however, these strategies were not as successful as co-location.
What we tried to do [to decrease the number of warrants] was work with law enforcement. We figured this was an opportunity to get them on board and say “We have X number of these offenders who are drug offenders, who are on warrant status, and a good percentage of them are unemployed, so they could be creating new crimes in your community. Work with us and let us help identify them.” So that was an approach that we made to law enforcement and they responded positively to the idea, but didn’t match their response with workforce, if you know what I mean. There was no real meaningful effort … Now, coincidentally, there’s kind of a different take on it, which probably is a smarter take, where the treatment providers, our Health Care Agency would play a role and just try to identify some of these folks and say “Hey, come on back into treatment. You know, just because you blew it off before, doesn’t mean you got to go to jail”, just kind of a softer, gentler approach to it, which probably will work, rather than going out from a law enforcement standpoint and locking them up. We didn’t make any meaningful headway on that [though].
In addition to resolving the workload issues discussed above, probation officers and supervisors also had to navigate other challenging situations instigated by Prop36. One of the unexpected issues supervisors dealt with was low morale among some of the staff resulting from the absence of normal operating procedures for Prop36 clients and the perceived negative stigma associated with being assigned to a PC1210 unit. Additionally, the lack of a proverbial “stick” led to a large segment of Prop36 probationers’ not taking probation seriously which in turn frustrated probation officers.
Changing Procedures and Stigma Changing rules for how probation officers could and should address Prop36 probationers’ drug-related violations generated much frustration among line-level staff during the first year. The law was confusing and ambiguous. The ambiguity left probation officers frustrated because policies and procedures continuously shifted until the California Supreme Court ruled on the various issues. In addition, having more seriously addicted offenders than anticipated caused unanticipated headaches for both Orange County stakeholders who had to modify treatment plans for scores of offenders, and also for the probation officers who had to understand and ensure probationer compliance with the revised treatment protocols.
[PC1210 officers] sounded very frustrated because it was like from day to day the procedures would change. Today, yes they could arrest them; tomorrow, no they couldn’t.
I think one of the hard things was staff morale because it was never settled. You could never reach the point of “This is what it is now, and this is what we’re going to do.” First it was just the newness, and sorting through and training people and trying to get things in place, but things were constantly changing. It was never settled because the numbers [of offenders] were exceeding what we were [expecting]. Who we had wasn’t who we planned [for]. We didn’t have the [treatment] providers in the way the clients really presented themselves in terms of. We really needed more residential than we had the ability to do. Everything was constantly changing. … and staff was very frustrated because they could never figure out “What version are we on today?” In addition to the struggles associated with undefined norms and changing protocols, officers in the PC1210 units in the early days had to contend with peers that did not understand or appreciate Prop36 or the probation officer’s role in it.
Although many PC1210 officers enjoy their assignment and want to work with this population, being assigned to the PC1210 unit has a somewhat negative connotation within the department; at least it did during the first few years of the program. This is primarily the result of the purely rehabilitative focus of Prop36 juxtaposed against the law enforcement mentality held by many probation officers.
What I didn’t anticipate was a little bit of, what’s the word; I don’t want to say polarizing, and not ostracizing, but within our agency, the people that work with Prop36 cases kind of took on a different identity from their colleagues. I didn’t really anticipate that. It almost became a negative thing if you’re working Prop36. It became an unpopular, negative assignment. … [We tried] sharing more information about what was going on with Prop36, what it was, and what it wasn’t. That it really was Probation work in a needed area with a needed population. That’s been an uphill battle. I couldn’t tell you even today, that we’re where we should be with that.
In addition to the large number of warrants generated by offenders who failed to report to probation and/or treatment prior to their initial court progress review, probation officers also found they were writing a lot of warrants for offenders who failed to abide by the conditions of their probation. According to probation officers and supervisors, this was the direct result of the inability to sanction offenders for their non-compliance and it frustrated officers.