How Riverside County’s budget crunch affects the Probation Department/Public Safety

Thanks to massive increases in mandated contributions to CalPERS, high taxes, high housing costs gridlocked freeways (try going through Riverside County all the way down to Fallbrook and Temecula and see if this is where you want to live)) and unions that demand higher wages and benefits, even if unaffordable, you have a train wreck coming.  In Riverside County that train wreck in public safety.  The cutbacks have started.  Oh, it should be noted the County spent millions on a new County Jail—but unable to open it due to lack of funds for personnel and operating costs.

“To save $10 million, the department plans to let about 100 employees leave — more than 50 already have — without being replaced. Fewer staff means more overtime to run juvenile facilities and less time to intervene with adult offenders before they end up back in handcuffs.

The situation worries the county Board of Supervisors, including Supervisor Kevin Jeffries.

“Our probation department is the last line of a proactive approach to making sure that some level of supervision and reporting-in is occurring,” he said  “Without some level of supervision or accountability, the courts will effectively be releasing some of these individuals, many of which are repeat offenders, right back into our communities with little or no supervision.”

At the same time the State has mandated that criminals from foreign countries be protected from the Federal government and immigration laws.  Combined, this becomes a powder keg.  Just because government does not call a crime, a crime, does not means there isn’t a crime or victims.

Prison_crowded

How Riverside County’s budget crunch affects the Probation Department

By Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, 12/30/17

Like some of the people it oversees, the Riverside County Probation Department budget can’t stay out of trouble.

The department, which supervises thousands of probationers and runs the county’s juvenile halls, used $15 million in one-time money to close a budget gap this fiscal year. A similar shortfall is expected when the new budget year starts July 1, but that one-time funding won’t be there.

To save $10 million, the department plans to let about 100 employees leave — more than 50 already have — without being replaced. Fewer staff means more overtime to run juvenile facilities and less time to intervene with adult offenders before they end up back in handcuffs.

The situation worries the county Board of Supervisors, including Supervisor Kevin Jeffries.

“Our probation department is the last line of a proactive approach to making sure that some level of supervision and reporting-in is occurring,” he said  “Without some level of supervision or accountability, the courts will effectively be releasing some of these individuals, many of which are repeat offenders, right back into our communities with little or no supervision.”

Jeffries added: “It’s easy to see why some of our communities may feel like they are back in the Wild West. The residents expect their government to keep the bad guys off the street or at the very least, supervised when given a second chance.

“We’ve arguably lost control with the repeat low-level offenders living in our homeless camps. All bets (are) off if we can’t supervise the more hard-core offenders.”

Probation is just one part of a gloomy county budget picture.

For years, tax revenue, while growing, hasn’t kept up with a series of new, ongoing and inflexible costs, from raises guaranteed to unionized workers in exchange for pension savings to a spike in the cost of jail inmate health care to satisfy a lawsuit settlement. County officials have used the word “unsustainable” to describe spending in past budgets.

It’s forced the board to dip into savings and use one-time revenue to balance the budget, a practice supervisors want to avoid as they try to replenish reserves and put the county’s finances on a sustainable path, with ongoing revenues paying for ongoing expenses.

The John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, which will add more than 1,200 beds to an overcrowded jail system, can’t open when construction finishes as expected this summer because money wasn’t set aside to hire and train enough staff, according to Sheriff Stan Sniff, who said deputy patrols in unincorporated communities are at bare-bones levels.

At the same time, the county is bracing for higher pension costs from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the possibility of paying more for a mandatory program that cares for indigent disabled and elderly adults. And collective bargaining talks with labor unions have led to angry employees and imposed contract terms sheriff’s deputies, but no new deals.

At the Nov. 14 board meeting, Supervisor John Tavaglione blasted what he described as unfair state funding formulas that don’t give the county the money it needs.

“We’re going to have to make some really, really tough decisions in the next year … that are not going to be very pretty,” Tavaglione said. “And it’s a result of decisions outside of our control.”

‘Need some help’

Rising labor costs and a lack of adequate state funding for realignment — the shifting of responsibility for low-level criminal offenders from the state to counties — factor into probation’s money crunch, Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake said.

Probation caseloads are capped at 60 per officer for medium-risk offenders and 40 per officer for high-risk offenders. There’s less time to intervene with offenders before an infraction and as a result, there’s been an increase in the number of violations by adults, Hake said.

The number of new felony violations by adults rose from 460 in the first three months of 2017 to 588 from July to September of 2017, probation figures show.

Those violations have a ripple effect on the criminal justice system, Hake added. Offenders end up in court and take up scarce jail beds as well as the time and resources of the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices, he said.

“Where we know we can be successful, when we’re (fully) funded and properly staffed, is to be able to be actively engaged with the offenders we’re responsible for,” Hake said. “(By staying connected with offenders), what we’re doing is increasing their rate of success because they know somebody’s looking out for them.”

Overtime in juvenile halls is needed to meet minimum required staffing levels, Hake said. “That wears on staff” and hinders the ability to run services for juvenile offenders, he added.

Probation incurred about $1.296 million in net overtime costs in fiscal 2014-15. That rose to $1.317 million in fiscal 2015-16 before falling to roughly $966,000 last fiscal year.

Eight-eight percent of overtime in fiscal 2016-17 was accrued in juvenile facilities.

Hake said he hopes to avoid layoffs. That said, “the probation department is going to need some help as we look at (next fiscal year) if we want service levels to remain where they’re at,” he said.

At the board’s Nov. 14 meeting, Jeffries said the county executive office, which oversees the county’s $5.5 billion budget, “is going to have a really challenging time trying to bring probation in.”

“We’ve either got to give them more revenues or they’re going to be a really different looking department this time next year,” the supervisor said.

 

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.