«From Inception to Implementation: How SACPA has affected the Case Processing and Sentencing of Drug Offenders in One California County DISSERTATION ...»
The study uses qualitative data to ascertain the impact of Proposition 36 on offenders, practitioners, and criminal justice agencies. It includes field interviews with stakeholders and criminal justice system actors and observations of Proposition 36 Court proceedings as well as analysis of various criminal justice measures. This research method is the most effective for understanding system response to legislation, ascertaining policy effects on practitioners and offenders, and identifying mechanisms that accommodate cyclical or policy-induced fluctuations in the number of offenders processing through the criminal justice system at a given time. The overall aim is to understand the processes by which criminal justice agencies and actors in Orange County adapted to this law and to identify the intended as well as unintended consequences of the legislation. I interviewed more than 60 practitioners who provided information about how the criminal justice system response was designed and orchestrated. The criminal justice system response was separated into two conceptual phases for data analysis purposes, (1) the planning and pilot study stage (November 2000 to June 2001) and (2) the execution stage (July 1, 2001 and after).
A total of 14 criminal justice agencies, representing every stage of the criminal justice process, were included in the research. Every criminal justice agency in Orange County that has sole responsibility for carrying out a specific criminal justice function at the local level was identified and asked to be part of the research (Orange County Probation Department, Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Orange County Public Defender’s Office, Orange County Superior Court, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – Division of Adult Parole Operations). Every agency agreed to participate except the District Attorney’s Office.
In addition, all agencies that provide local law enforcement functions in Orange County were identified. There are 20 law enforcement agencies (19 police departments and one sheriff’s department) that patrol the 34 cities and unincorporated areas in Orange County14. In addition, the sheriff’s department (and one police department) provides law enforcement services on a contract basis to cities in the In California, police departments are responsible for law enforcement functions in incorporated municipalities while county sheriff’s departments are responsible for law enforcement functions in all unincorporated areas of a county.
county that do not wish to have their own police department. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement services for the entire southern portion of the county, either by statute or by contract (11 cities). One state law enforcement agency was not approached to be part of the study. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is a state law enforcement agency that is primarily responsible for maintaining public safety and enforcing law on the state’s highway system. It is not part of the study because the agency was not expected to be noticeably impacted by the law15.
Law enforcement agencies were evaluated to be part of the study based on size of the department, size and demographics of the population served, and geographic
enforcement agencies in Orange County, nine were approached and asked to be a part Driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under the influence of a drug are not SACPAeligible offenses; therefore I do not expect the CHP to have been noticeably impacted by the legislation.
of the research study. All nine agencies agreed to participate. The county sheriff’s department and the three largest city police departments were selected because any procedural changes that occurred within these departments would have a large influence on the processing of offenders within the county. Additionally, three small and two medium sized agencies that serve diverse populations throughout the county were selected to illuminate implementation and attitudinal differences that could vary by department size or population served. Together, these nine participating agencies provide law enforcement services for 77% of county residents.
A variety of methods were employed to identify appropriate practitioners within each agency to interview. The method employed depended on the agency and whether I was seeking information about the planning/pilot study stage (November 2000 – June 30, 2001) or the execution stage (July 1, 2001 and after). To locate persons involved in the planning/pilot study stage, a snowball sampling technique was used. One person from the Orange County Probation Department who had a significant role in the planning stage was identified and interviewed. That person identified other key players in the planning process. Those individuals were contacted and asked to participate in the study. In all cases except one (the District Attorney’s Office representative16), key players in the implementation process agreed to be interviewed. In some cases, I was introduced by someone within the agency but in most cases I called and introduced myself and told the practitioner that I was urged to call by the named informant. The sampling of practitioners involved in the execution The District Attorney’s Office turned down my request to interview agency personnel, so this person was not contacted.
stage (post July 1, 2001) occurred in multiple ways, depending on the agency. The sampling procedure for each agency type is explained below.
Probation Department The supervisor of the research unit of the Orange County Probation Department sent an email to current and past PC1210 unit17 supervisors introducing me and the project. I then contacted the individuals who received the email and made arrangements to interview them and some of their staff at a convenient time. In some cases, the supervisors had chosen specific probation officers assigned to a PC1210 case load for me to interview. In other cases, I interviewed the PC1210 unit probation officers who were in their offices after I completed my interview with the supervisor.
Parole Division At the parole office, initial interviewees were selected by a supervisor and additional interviewees were identified through interviews with parole agents. On a couple of occasions, the parole agent I interviewed introduced me to other parole agents, who then agreed to be interviewed18.
Courtroom Workgroup Judges were selected to be interviewed based on their current or past assignment. Judges assigned to the Proposition 36 court were asked to participate for obvious reasons. Some drug court judges were also asked to participate based on their knowledge of drug court and drug offenders within the county. Also, in Orange County, all felony cases originate in a felony panel court. Two felony panel court The probation department refers to Proposition 36 probationers as PC1210 probationers – this is taken from the penal code section created by the statute.
Due to time constraints, not all of these additional parole agents were formally interviewed. In some cases, short conversations occurred as time permitted.
judges were interviewed to ascertain how decisions are made regarding an offender’s eligibility as well as other procedural questions. These judges were identified through snowball sampling, as introductions by other judges proved to be important in this agency and with this practitioner population. Supervisors at the Public Defender’s Office and a city Attorney’s Office were interviewed based on their knowledge of Proposition 36 case processing and/or involvement in the planning/pilot study phase.
Law Enforcement Agencies Law enforcement personnel were selected to be interviewed in a variety of ways. In most cases, the Chief of Police assigned a specific person within the agency to be my department contact and instructed me to get in touch with this person when I was ready to set up interviews with agency personnel. The assigned contact was typically a narcotics unit supervisor or a patrol supervisor. When I made contact, this person would ask me who I wanted to speak to. At that point I would explain my research and request to speak to one or two officers and a supervisor assigned to the narcotics bureau, two patrol officers, an officer in a community policing role (if appropriate), and a supervisor who might have a “birds-eye view” of how the legislation may have impacted the department as a whole; as well as anyone else they (my contact) felt would be useful to interview.
I typically allowed my contact to identify appropriate individuals to interview based on the criteria I established during our telephone call or email correspondence.
In some cases, the agency contact person made all arrangements for me (for example, I spent one day interviewing several people in succession at a few departments). In other cases the agency contact person provided me with telephone numbers and/or emails for the persons he/she thought would be helpful and instructed me to call/email the individuals directly. Thus, some law enforcement officers were chosen by me to be interviewed due to their current assignment (for example, supervisor of the narcotics unit); some officers volunteered to be interviewed when asked, and yet other officers were chosen simply because they (1) were on duty, (2) had a beat partner (or someone to cover their area in their absence), and (3) were not on a call at the time I was ready to interview someone. As with other types of agencies, some snowball sampling occurred within law enforcement agencies also.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 60 criminal justice practitioners (see Table 2.3 for details), including judges, public defenders, city attorneys, probation officers, parole agents, jail deputies, jail supervisors, patrol officers, special detail/drug enforcement team officers, community policing officers, and supervisors from nine participating law enforcement agencies in the focus county19. Informants were promised confidentiality but were made aware that the case study county would be identified. Interviews lasted between 33 minutes and 2 hours and 13 minutes, and most lasted 45-55 minutes. Interviews were typically conducted at the criminal justice agency but occasionally took place at local eateries at the practitioner’s request. Interviews were audio recorded and then transcribed by undergraduate research assistants. The format of the interviews was semi-structured to allow criminal justice professionals the opportunity to describe their agencies’, as well as their own personal experiences adapting to Proposition 36. At the end of the interview, all interviewees were asked for their personal opinions about the effectiveness of Proposition 36 and what changes to the law they felt would be beneficial and would make it more effective.
In the tradition of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967/2006; Glaser, 1978; Strauss, 1987; Strauss and Corbin, 1990), I allowed criminal justice practitioners in Orange County to describe their agencies’ and their own experiences adapting to this legislative change. I used information gathered through multiple interviews as well as internal memos and documents provided to me by practitioners to reveal when and how policy changes occurred within Orange County agencies in response to SACPA. In addition, inter-agency and intra-agency hurdles and facilitators were identified through responses to interview questions.
It was evident throughout many of the interviews that my prior law enforcement experience facilitated the development of trust between interviewee and interviewer. As law enforcement officers are a notoriously difficult group to research In addition to semi-structured interviews, I had formal and informal conversations with many more practitioners, including 3 treatment system stakeholders throughout the course of the research project.
(Skolnick, 1994), I believe that my prior experience enhanced officer candor and made the research findings richer than might otherwise have been expected. This prior experience proved helpful, but not integral, in interviews with other criminal justice professionals as well.
Law Enforcement The law enforcement interview instrument contained 25 open-ended questions and four vignettes. Questions asked of particular interviewees varied based on current assignment and experience with Proposition 36 or narcotics offenders. The interview instruments included questions that gauged the individual officer’s knowledge and understanding of Proposition 36, experience with drug offenders and frequency of drug arrests, and perceived impact of the law on their job and their agency.
Additionally, officers were presented with up to four vignettes to ascertain if and how SACPA impacted their decision whether to arrest a drug offender and/or what offense(s) to charge him/her with. The law enforcement instrument is Appendix C.
Courtroom Workgroup The judge interview instrument contained 44 open-ended questions and the attorney interview instrument contained 48 open-ended questions. Questions asked of particular interviewees varied based on current assignment and whether the person had a role in planning for the implementation of Proposition 36. The instrument includes both instructional questions and change questions in order to detect any interpretational variations of court processes, policies, or responsibilities by other courtroom actors (such as PDs, DAs, judges) as well as to be able to accurately describe offender processing in Orange County. The judge instrument is Appendix D and the attorney instrument is Appendix E.
Probation Officers & Parole Agents The probation officer interview instrument contained 22 open-ended questions and the parole agent interview instrument contained 20 open-ended questions.