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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 11:46 am | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara County Staff Still Can’t Nail Down Prop 47 Impacts

Santa Barbara County officials debated Tuesday about how to best quantify the impacts of Proposition 47, a state law that reclassifies some felonies as misdemeanors.

Are crime statistics and arrest records better indicators, or the fact that the County Jail saw its lowest average daily population numbers since 2007, the year following Prop 47 passage?

Either way, most of the county Board of Supervisors pointed out the Sheriff’s Department’s inadequate collection of data showing who’s in jail, why and for how long.

All five agreed it was still too early to tell what effect Prop. 47 — the “Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act” — has had locally since California voters approved it in November 2014.

The supervisors received a report this week updating efforts of affected departments to track impacts and budget savings from Prop 47, which aims to reduce incarceration rates by re-sentencing or reclassifying nonviolent drug, theft and other low-level felonies as misdemeanor crimes.

The law — crafted outside the state Legislature — is meant to save the state $100 million to $200 million by eventually reducing the criminal-justice workload and freeing up jail beds and probation resources.

That money isn’t coming from the state until August at the earliest, but the county is already looking at applying for grants that may assist local programs.

Although the jail’s inmate population initially fell, the Sheriff’s Department reported an unexplained increase in average daily population for the first three months of 2016.

Last year, jail the average daily population fell from 967 in 2014 to 891, according to department data gathered during a “point-in-time” type count.

As of last month, the population was up to 1,002.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf wondered if that was because Sheriff Bill Brown — opposed to Prop 47 from the start — was allowing fewer early releases for inmates. The practice of releasing inmates early historically helps alleviate overcrowded jails.

In the county report, fewer early releases were noted as a possible indicator of surging numbers.

“How can we substantiate that?” said Wolf, who has supported Prop 47.

Felony filings decreased countywide by more than 1,000, she said, but Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino countered that misdemeanor filings increased by about that amount.

Without a better idea of the inmate makeup, Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said, the county would never be able to determine impacts.

 “We need to have a better idea of who is there and why, especially if the numbers seem to be dramatically rising again,” she said.

Statewide, jail populations decreased by more than 6,300 Prop 47-specific inmates in the first year, with 3,300 fewer expected per year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The county District Attorney and Public Defender offices are seeing fewer petitions for reclassification of Prop 47 crimes, the county report said, but they also logged a 42-increase in the number of failures to appear in court for misdemeanor warrants.

More offenders are participating in treatment courts, fewer adult offenders are under probation supervision, and the Department of Behavioral Wellness continues to see high use of in-patient beds.

Lavagnino said property crimes seem to have skyrocketed, especially in Orcutt and Santa Maria.

Under Prop 47, anyone who steals items valued at less than $950 can now only be charged with a misdemeanor.

A Sheriff’s Department representative wouldn’t speculate on Prop 47 impacts, but did note the department is asking the county to fund a new data-tracking system in its 2016-17 budget.

The FBI tracks crime and arrest data, but Lavagnino worried even arrest data would be skewed. Deputies might be less likely to spend time arresting someone for a misdemeanor if they don’t think the punishment is worth it, he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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