BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It took some convincing, but the group that helps implement prison realignment in Kern County agreed Wednesday to participate in a statewide Stanford University study on how the program is working.
Some members of the Community Corrections Partnership worried Kern County wouldn't look good under the microscope, but in the end only one voted against the idea.
The partnership, made up of officials from local public safety and social services agencies, manages prison realignment in Kern County, including spending state money to fund the program.
Realignment is a state plan to move lower-level offenders from state to county incarceration and post-release supervision.
Stanford researchers hope to look at data from all 58 California counties such as how realignment affects decisions on prisoner releases, criminal sentencing and filing charges, said Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School.
The researchers plan to use data counties already are collecting on the effects of realignment locally and interview key people such as prosecutors and judges, Weisberg said.
The study is being prepared primarily for the governor's office and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The study is grant-funded and wouldn't require any money from Kern County. But partnership members were cautious in recommending Kern participate. Some voiced fears the study could portray Kern County in a negative light or be biased.
But members of the partnership's executive committee, including Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Chief Probation Officer David Kuge and Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson voted to recommend Kern County participate. Kern County is receiving far less than its fair share of state realignment money, they said, and participating could give the county input.
Only District Attorney Lisa Green voted against participation.
"We know that statewide, Kern County has a reputation for not necessarily being as proactive" with prison realignment initiatives, said Kern County Administrative Officer John Nilon. A statewide study could disprove that, Nilon said.
"I think it's the image that even drives the allocation" of realignment funding, he said.
Heejong Joo, a criminal justice professor at Cal State Bakersfield, told the members he is looking for funding, potentially from the county, for a separate study on the effects of realignment in Kern County.
Joo said the study, which would take three years to complete, would require funding of $400,000 to $450,000. The partnership members didn't take action on that item, but some said a Kern County-specific study might be more useful for seeing the effects of alignment locally than the Stanford one.
Also at the meeting, the D.A.'s office said felony criminal complaint requests and felony filings increased in the last three months of 2012 versus the same period in 2011.
In Bakersfield, felony criminal complaint requests rose almost 21 percent in that time, and for all of Kern County, they rose 35 percent. Felony filings rose 39 percent in Bakersfield and 31 percent in Kern County in that time.