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County officials to weigh in at criminal justice forum

Speakers will discuss realignment, issues with inmate services and late-night releases
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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RETHINKING CRIMINAL JUSTICE IN PLACER COUNTY

When: 9-11:45 a.m. Saturday, April 27

Where: Rocklin Community Center – 5480 Fifth Street, Rocklin

Cost: free

ROCKLIN – A group of community members hope to start a public dialogue about Placer County’s criminal justice system with a forum on the topic this Saturday at the Rocklin Community Center.

Presented by the Justice Committee, a subgroup of local activist organization Placer People of Faith Together, “Rethinking Criminal Justice in Placer County” will employ a panel of speakers to explain several facets of the issue before opening the floor to a public question-and-answer session.

Kathy Jett, a representative of California Forward, and Justice Committee member Mary Jo Buettner will begin with an explanation of California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 109, generally known as “realignment.” Passed in 2011, the bill requires non-serious, non-violent or non-sex offenders to serve sentences in county jails instead of prisons.

Unsatisfied with the practices and services of the county’s current justice system, Placer People of Faith Together wants to educate the public on the ramifications of realignment and whether the county can provide inmates with what they need.

“We’re doing this forum because, one, there is realignment that has come about from the state to the county that’s creating a different situation,” said event moderator Patricia Jensen. “And two, the county is developing a criminal justice master plan, and the process has just been started with the consultants, and we think it’s time for people who are residents and taxpayers to learn a little bit about what realignment really is and what it means for Placer County, both in terms of public safety and dollars.”

Following the overview of AB109, Captain Wayne Woo of the county’s Corrections Division will present facts and statistics of incarceration in Placer County, and Chief Probation Officer Marshall Hopper will discuss rehabilitation and re-entry. Amanda Gibbs, a probation officer from Napa County, will then use the example of her own county’s justice system as a model to improve in-custody services, recidivism rates and preparation for life outside the gates.

Jensen said Placer County’s current system allows too many late-night releases from jail, too few in-custody services like education and anger management, and does not adequately prepare inmates for life after custody. When former inmates are released onto the street in the middle of the night with no transportation, money or phone, she said, their path can often lead right back to jail.

“We’ve asked Napa County to come and talk, because they have an exemplary program for people who are on probation, and helping them make lifestyle changes,” she said. “All we’re trying to do is say, ‘There are different ways we can look at this to be smart on crime, making the community safer and saving tax dollars.’”

Buettner said many inmates have been released without their prescriptions, or proper clothing for weather conditions. There are no pay phones near the jail, and any checks for returning their money are useless to people released on a weekend.

Having successfully prevailed upon the county in the past to allot more money for inmate treatment and education and revise its inmate release times, Buettner hopes the forum will give voice to the public as new laws come down the pike. With the Placer County Board of Supervisors working on a criminal justice master plan and 13 bills in the California legislature proposing adjustments to the “realignment” scheme, she said the electorate needs to know what’s coming.

“I talked to one lady who isn’t homeless, but she got out at 2 a.m., and they didn’t give her her cell phone or any way to contact people … so she had to walk to the nearest house where she knew somebody so she could get help,” she said. “We understand the jail is working on this, and they’re trying to change it, but we don’t know how far that change has gone.”