Kevin Fitzgerald
Riverside County Interim Chief Probation Officer Ron Miller II: “For us, the two words you hear a lot of are ‘previous trauma’ or ‘drama’ (that may explain) what’s gone on in this person’s life, and next: How do we get this person back to being happy, healthy, whole and functioning in our communities?” Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald

The auditorium at the UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Center was filled with more than 150 attendees when Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez spoke at the Adult Justice System Symposium on Oct. 30.

Perez talked about the innovative programs and services now utilized by the Riverside County Probation Department to help citizens re-integrate into their communities after being released from prison—and he spoke passionately about why the issue is important to him.

He elaborated on those reasons in a subsequent phone interview.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I grew up in Coachella, and that I grew up (the child of) immigrant farm workers who did everything that they could to support their children,” Perez said. “But the 1980s and ’90s in the city of Coachella were tough. It was crazy. La Eme (the Mexican mafia in the United States) and the local gangs ran the city and ran the community. So many people were pressured to become a member of La Eme, or of a gang, and if you did not, then unfortunately, maybe something would happen to you.

“I was just very lucky. I was just very, very lucky. So that’s why (this issue) is deep for me. It’s not only about folks who were very close to me, but also even family members. I’ve got family members to this day who are in prison.”

Perez organized the event in conjunction with the Riverside County Probation Department to familiarize residents and organizations with community-based programs geared toward rehabilitation, with the intention of preventing the need to re-incarcerate those convicted of crimes.

Riverside County Interim Chief Probation Officer Ron Miller II spoke about his desire to engage the community in a recent phone interview.

“You know it’s interesting: Historically, probation has not been a ‘sexy’ department to cover,” Miller said. “For many years, we primarily did pre-sentencing reports on people who had been convicted and were awaiting sentencing. The pre-sentence report would give some background information to the court to (help them) determine an appropriate sentence. … As money in the adult world (of probation services) continued to dry up, the responsiveness to adults on probation was fairly limited.”

Then, in 2009, Senate Bill 678 became law.

“SB 678 had to do with giving funds for evidence-based practices to be developed,” Miller said. “That infusion of money into the system really allowed probation to start going from a slow-walk to a run: It allowed us to get into case-plan development, and really look at the treatment needs of adult clients and the factors that led them to a place where they were arrested. Then, we could come up with strategies to address those treatment needs.

“For us, the two words you hear a lot of are ‘previous trauma’ or ‘drama’ (that may explain) what’s gone on in this person’s life, and next: How do we get this person back to being happy, healthy, whole and functioning in our communities?”

Two years later, the state passed Assembly Bill 109, which started a process known as “realignment”: People convicted of less-serious felonies were diverted from the state prison system and instead sent to county jails.

“For all the negativity that came out of (the passage of that bill),” Miller said, “it really did push additional money into our portion of the criminal-justice system that allowed us to become more effective in reaching the adult population and creating change opportunities for them. You’ll hear a lot from law enforcement about the challenges that AB 109 has presented. But from our perspective, these were people who were coming out of prison anyway, and instead of going to parole for supervision, they now went to probation for supervision—and (at the county level), this is our community. We know the resources that are available, so we’re probably the best-situated agency to provide the level of support toward community integration.

“A guy’s coming out of prison after having served, say, five years: That’s five years out of the loop. They don’t have a bank account. They don’t have a place to stay. They don’t have a job. They get $200 exit money, and then you’re popping them back into the community. Where’s the support for success? We’re probably the best agency to try to bridge this person, from where he was (in jail or prison) to getting him back on his feet and functioning back in the community.”

Have these efforts decreased the recidivism rate? Miller said he believes they have.

“Of the main categories we look at in the field of probation, one of those is the formal probation client. That’s somebody who has been arrested, gone to court and has been sentenced to probation locally,” he said. “We have about 9,000 of those clients currently in Riverside County. Among that group, about 26 percent will recidivate (within three years), which means that about 74 percent successfully complete without a new violation. That’s the number that we focus on, the successful completions.

“Then we have the AB 109 population of about 3,000 clients, and they come in two groups. One is the group that is arrested, goes to court and is sentenced to (state) prison, but then they serve their sentence locally at a county jail. … Then we also have the group that is sentenced to prison; they go to prison; and then when they’re released, because they were there for a non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offense, they come to probation for supervision. On average, about 43 percent of those clients recidivate.”

That apparent decrease in the recidivism rate was part of the story Perez wanted to tell at the symposium.

“Quite frankly, I was impressed by the amount of people (who attended), but regardless, that’s not the point,” Perez said. “Did they gain something from it? Are there changes that should be made to our system? And do they feel they have a voice in the system? This (symposium) is our first attempt, and this is my passion.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, the compassion did not exist in our communities, especially in communities of color. Community policing was not (born) of compassion. I think now it is changing. I think what probation is doing is creating change. Now, it’s not just about looking for people and then locking them up and throwing away the key, just because they wear certain clothing or they look a certain way. I believe that compassion is now coming, or is here.

“Also, today, we have leaders who are coming back home. They grew up in areas of the Coachella Valley that are much more forward-thinking and open-minded. Then they went off to school, and now they’re returning. It doesn’t matter what their ethnicity may be. They are very willing to work with people now. It wasn’t like that before. So we have to be empathetic and compassionate. In my opinion, that’s something that we need to strive for every day. It’s hard, but we should do that.”

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, after he and his wife Linda moved from Los Angeles to Palm...

2 replies on “Reducing Recidivism: Riverside County Is Making New Efforts to Keep People Convicted of Felonies From Returning to Prison”

  1. Infusion of money to the probation department? AB109 puts nonviolent offenders with any number of years in local county jails and they mix it up with the shorter term inmates or those fighting their cases and this is gonna cost the county millions of dollars in future lawsuits I can guarantee it 100%. Prisons have developed into a place that is expectant and suited for long term inmate population and the health of long term stays in the county jails (especially if you are placed in the protective custody housing because your have alternative lifestyle for example ) are dangerous ..County jails are loud fast and hard. Prisons are bigger , quiet , permanent and softer ..Bedding is better. Food is better . Program are available and alt lifestyle inmates aren’t housed with protective custody inmates and can work and participate in general population housing. Commissary is more bulk . Its cheaper (for example years ago a noodle soup in county was 90 cents compared to 10 cents in state.)
    Inmates can be sentenced to 20 years all in County where they will do more tine because they do not receive the 1/3 time given in State and they cant participate in programs that cut even more time off their term. And of all is because they dont have violence or a charge that involves a public burglary or any sex crimes or strikes. Some kind of a reward right ? The worst problem is the level of health care for Ab109 inmates in County jail facilities. They are not equipped for long term inmates and this all presents a dangerous and deadly environment for certain inmates. It is very sad to be assigned to a protective custody housing where you will spend 10 years with mostly unsentenced sexual predators , high profile inmates , child , and other custody issues inmates. But the money is about to be gone .. The harm these inmates (some who have made medical situations known to no avail) have been forced to endure , the poor planning and lack of consideration before assigning inmates with many years to County jails, and the existing medical deficiencies already identified within the County and described in detail by Dr. Scott Allen in a joint expert report make any litigation against the County indefensible . Its simply a matter of when. My money says there will be at least one by next year with more to follow. Common sense , you dont do something as drastic as sentence inmates with years to do , to County jail. The tradition for inmates resigned to going to prison is the ” I cant wait to get to prison” or ” catch the chain”. Many defendants attempt to have the judge sentence them “forthwith ” at sentencing so they can get to prison faster , hit reception and get their 1/3 time running asap. They want to leave the chaos of constant movement in housing , court transfer, of county and get to a place where the environment is different. It doesn’t need to be described it just needs to be remembered it has taken 200 years to shape and form what works and in one vote they changed where a inmate will spend the next 10 years of their lives and made no provisions or changes for this population.. As with anything dealing with inmates , you can better understand if you are or have a loved one suffering the situation or especially lost a loved one in the custody of County Jail (Sheriffs).

  2. I was just wondering what Riverside Probation was up to since I found a workers badge in my car.!? I don’t believe the person’s last statement about Prison being better then jail. The corruption that slides in Prison usually never adds up to the local jail in rear scheme of things. I’ve been a contributor to the system and I don’t understand how I can see men in suits passing with the best shoes money can buy yet theirs no check and balance features set up so that these outsiders aren’t there like they are visiting a zoo and how are they are not unsuspected cohorts to the organized crime seen in both states of detention. IDR by design actually allows the DoO to make sure Civil and Human rights are still being regulated. There was a military or vet who was locked up in Oklahoma. I’m not sure if the detention center new this but it was horrible. I’m not sure if it was a covert operation either but a check and balance system from an outside agency would definitely have a substantial effect on the system.

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