CSU, Chico News

Faculty Release Report on Sheriff’s AB 109 Program

Date: 05-20-2013

Joe Wills
Public Affairs

An assessment by California State University, Chico faculty found positive results in Butte County’s response to the shift of some felony offenders from state prisons to county jails.

The state’s criminal justice realignment, triggered by Assembly Bill 109, began shifting the custody and supervision of low-level felons to the counties in October 2011.

Shortly thereafter, an interdisciplinary team of CSU, Chico faculty, forming the Consortium for Public Safety Research (CPSR), partnered with Butte County to understand the impacts of additional offenders under county supervision because of AB 109. As an aspect of the partnership, the CPSR has focused on the impact of AB 109 on the Butte County Jail.

CSU, Chico’s Consortium for Public Safety Research reported three main findings to the Butte County Community Corrections Partnership last week:

  • Felons participating in the Butte County Sheriff’s Office Alternative Custody Supervision Program had a first-year recidivism rate of 14 percent, a lower rate than comparison group estimates. Alternative custody meant offenders served a portion of their sentences supervised outside of jail wearing an electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet.
  • AB 109 offenders in Butte County were more likely to report needing rehabilitative and therapeutic services compared to those who were incarcerated for misdemeanors.
  • Risk of program failure could be predicted by several social and criminal history factors, along with attitudinal scores based on a survey of offenders.

The Butte County Community Corrections Partnership, comprising Sheriff Jerry Smith, Chief Probation Officer Steve Bordin, District Attorney Mike Ramsey, Behavioral Health Director Anne Robin and Chief Administrative Officer Paul Hahn, met with the CPSR last week to hear findings of the report.

The report, titled “Considering the Life-Course of Crime: Contextualizing California’s AB 109 Offender under Correctional Supervision,” was authored by CSU, Chico political science professors Jon Caudill, Ryan Patten, Sally Anderson and Matthew Thomas, and it includes research results as well as recommendations for future policies.

Caudill, the lead author, said the county’s Alternative Custody Supervision Program gave staff flexibility to choose which offenders could serve part of their sentence outside of jail with electronic-monitoring supervision. Many other counties chose to respond to the additional offenders by setting jail time and probation length at sentencing, which took away the ability to make custody decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Caudill said Butte County’s response to AB 109, including the use of alternative custody supervision, contributed to “a respectable and substantially reduced recidivism rate given the nature of these correctional clients.” He said the finding “adds critically important information to the current debates surrounding criminal justice realignment.”

The authors framed the report within a “life-course” theoretical framework, which suggests criminal behavior occurs in the context of both individual choices as well as societal forces. “Individuals reach various turning points throughout their life course, and for the AB 109 correctional clients, it appears the Butte County Sheriff’s Office has harnessed those turning points by providing recidivism-reducing services and supervision,” Caudill said.

In addition to the faculty involved in the report, numerous CSU, Chico students—both undergraduate and graduate—participated in the research project. Criminal justice interns logged more than 300 hours of work on this project and observed over 400 home visits with deputies to alternative custody clients.

“We simply would not be able to conduct research on this scale without our dedicated student interns,” said Patten, who oversees the ride-along portion of the research project.

The project provides “our students the experience and opportunity to see how the things they learn in the classroom translate into practice in the field,” Caudill said. “For our students, this is ‘boots on the ground.’”

Emily La Rue, a senior criminal justice major, said, "As students, the opportunity to be a part of this collaboration has allowed us to develop a larger appreciation for research and the potential influence the results have on real-world situations. We are able to take what we observe on ride-alongs with deputies, discuss those observations with our professors, and then watch the alternative custody supervision program grow and evolve as more data is collected and analyzed.”

Gayle Hutchinson, dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, said, “CSU, Chico is committed to providing students with high-quality and applied learning environments, which includes serving communities outside the University in ways that are meaningful and productive for everyone involved. The recent partnership between the Consortium for Public Safety Research and the Butte County Sheriff’s Office allows our students and faculty to work shoulder to shoulder with criminal justice personnel. I find the organizational design of this partnership to be exemplary, as evidenced by the high quality of its most recent study.”

The authors make several evidence-based recommendations, including expanding therapeutic services in the Butte County Jail and the successful Alternative Custody Supervision Program. As Caudill notes, this applied research “allows us to provide services to criminal justice agencies in our University’s service area, while also exemplifying the teacher-scholar model by integrating students into our research.”

Commenting on the report, Sheriff Smith said, "I am pleased with the progress we are achieving in our Alternative Custody Supervision Program. This report reaffirms that we are making headway in our ongoing effort to enhance public safety by reducing recidivism. The research conducted by the Chico State researchers is invaluable and enables us to deploy our limited resources in a manner likely to achieve the best outcomes. I look forward to continued collaboration with Chico State and greatly appreciate the University's commitment to helping us make our community a safer place."

The research project is supported through funding from the University, the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and the Department of Political Science. All inquiries and comments should be directed to Caudill at jcaudill@csuchico.edu.