One year ago, criminal justice leaders admitted the county was facing a mess. Just a few months into the Assembly Bill 109 inmate realignment, they were grasping for answers to deal with a problem they weren’t prepared for: How could Plumas County possibly deal with all the felons who would be staying here instead of going to state prisons where they should be?
The county didn’t have adequate alcohol, drug and mental health services and the jail was quickly filling to capacity.
Many of the jail’s cells were filled with criminals who deserved to be in prison. But many of the nonviolent inmates could have benefited from mental health or alcohol and drug treatment. Instead, they did their time and were released back into the local population without ever addressing the problems that landed them in jail in the first place.
One of our judges said he felt embarrassed during a state convention when he told colleagues that he couldn’t even render split sentences (substance abuse and mental health treatment outside the jail). Our judges had no choice but to sentence everyone to the county jail.
It was a formula for failure.
But that formula is changing.
Thanks to hard work and cooperation from law enforcement and other county departments and agencies, the county is making giant strides to address the recidivism (repeat offender) problem and make this a safer place to live.
A lot of people deserve credit for helping to improve the criminal justice playing field. Last week, the county’s realignment committee lauded the new alternative sentencing coordinator, Stephanie Tanaka. Tanaka has been a key player in bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together.
The highlight of her impact is next week’s opening of the Daily Reporting Center. The DRC, which will be housed in the Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center in Quincy, is a one-stop place for people who need help with their troubled lives to get the help they need. Most of the people who show up there will be ordered to as part of their parole or probation. But some of them will be there by choice, trying to change the pattern of behavior that keeps landing them in jail.
If there is anything positive about the impact of AB 109 on Plumas County, this is it.
And while Tanaka may be the face of the DRC, she is the first to say that it wasn’t a one-person accomplishment. The county has cobbled together its limited resources to make this happen.
The Board of Supervisors should be commended for approving the alternative sentencing coordinator position. But thanks should also go to Public Health Director Mimi Hall, Mental Health Director Kimball Pier, the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, probation, social services, PCIRC and the Alliance for Workforce Development. All of these departments and agencies have some skin in the game. And there are probably others that haven’t been mentioned. It has truly been a team effort.
Assistant Sheriff Dean Canalia best summarized the situation when he said, “What has happened in the last three or four weeks is absolutely astonishing. This is just going to enhance the services that we can give the people coming out of the jail.”
Inmates are going to finally have tools at their disposal that could help them lead better, more productive lives as citizens of Plumas County. And, in turn, Plumas County itself will become a better, safer place for all of us.