CVIndependent

Fri11152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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 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.”

Published in Local Issues

Before responsible Riverside County voters go to the polls on Nov. 6, not only will they need to determine which candidates are the most qualified; they’ll need to examine candidates’ statements and positions to determine what is based on fact—and what is not.

This brings us to the race for California’s 28th Senate District—which includes the entire Coachella Valley—where incumbent Republican State Sen. Jeff Stone is running for a second term against Democratic challenger Joy Silver.

Silver is an underdog in the race. In the June primary election, Stone received 56 percent of the vote, compared to 34.7 percent for Silver—a margin of more than 34,000 votes. (A third candidate, Anna Nevenic, a Democrat, received 9.3 percent.)

We asked each candidate why he or she thought constituents should vote for them.

“Probably because I have a proven track record of being an elected official,” said Stone during a recent phone interview. “I’m completing my 26th year (of holding elected office). You never really forget who your boss is, and that’s your constituents, so you have to make sure that you’re always doing things in their best interests.

“Whether I was on the city council (of Temecula), or the board of supervisors (of Riverside County) or now in the California state government, whenever I meet with a governing body, I always feel like I’ve got my constituents sitting on my shoulder, and I ask myself, ‘Is this something they would like or not like?’ Certainly, coming to the state Senate has been a much more challenging experience, because you have a third dimension, which is not one that we had at a local level too much, and that’s partisanship. The partisanship is something you can cut with a knife.”

Silver is a small-business owner who built a successful career as a health clinic executive, senior housing developer and business consultant.

“I think it’s important for people to know that I’m not a career politician,” Silver said. “I’m an outsider who will bring real change to Sacramento, and that will include standing up to those policies coming out of Washington when they hurt all Californians. I want to bring my experience to work on our local priorities, and to fight for the values of our Riverside County constituents … all of us.”

The Independent asked what their priorities would be if elected to the four-year term.

“I carry some very basic fundamentals with me in being an elected official,” Stone said. “One is that government has limited responsibilities, mostly ensuring that our citizens are safe and healthy; and for those who don’t have financial resources, we need to make sure that we help them, especially those who want to help themselves.

“We’ve seen public safety deteriorate with all these terrible initiatives like Prop 47 (which reduced penalties for some crimes, passed in 2014), Prop 57 (passed in 2016, it incentivizes prison inmates to take responsibility for their own rehabilitation, among other things) and AB 109 (passed in 2011 in response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce California prison populations, it transferred certain nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to county-level supervision). These public-safety experiments have come at the cost of a lot of lives and the demise of many businesses.”

Statistics, however, don’t support Stone’s claims. A June 21 report from the Public Policy Institute of California indicates that property-crime rates have decreased slightly since 2011, when the first of these laws was enacted. While violent-crime rates have increased slightly in that time frame, they are still about 50 percent less than year 2000 levels.

Silver said her priorities would include job creation, universal healthcare for all California residents, developing a clean energy economy, career/vocational training, the expansion of affordable housing, and advocacy for immigrant communities.

We asked if universal health care was a realistic goal.

“I do think it is an achievable goal, and with my expertise in the provision of healthcare services, I think I can help move that concept into a place (where) it can work,” she said. “We do have a large economy. Certainly, there are smaller economies in the world that are providing health care for their people, and I think that with the right plan, we can make it happen here for Californians.”

The ever-increasing cost of many prescription drugs is another concern she hopes to address.

“I feel that there needs to be a particular focus on the ability to do group purchases,” Silver said. “Certainly, I’m not the first one to come up with that. When I did work in the health-care business, and we did provide service to a mostly Medicaid patient population, the key there was for independent ambulatory surgical centers to participate in group purchases of items, and that helped us turn around and provide needed goods to the population that we were serving. I think that would be one of the ways to contain costs in a larger venue like our state.”

Stone—who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Dr. Raul Ruiz in 2016—said the business climate is a top concern.

“I’ve been an active opponent to taxation since I started my political endeavors in 1992, and I’ve never voted for a tax,” Stone said. “We need to do a better job of keeping jobs in California. We’re seeing a flight of the middle class out of the state. We see the price of homes out of the reach of middle-class Californians. Look at the flight out of San Francisco—the liberal experiment that goes on (there) where you have ‘shooting galleries,’ which are places to shoot heroin. And you see the homeless population exponentially increasing there with people bagging feces on the street, and hypodermic needles all over the place. … Even the property values here in Sacramento have been climbing like crazy. Why? Because the people in the Bay Area are trying to escape all this horrific policy that has reduced the quality of life of the people living in those areas.”

The Independent asked both candidates what solutions they would propose to combat the proliferation of wildfires in our state.

“We have to take into consideration that the dryness is part of that issue,” Silver said. “I know that in Idyllwild, they’ve had a plan, and because that plan was in place with various stop-gap measures and ways to coordinate with local fire departments at different points in time, they were able to contain the smaller fires that were initiated by embers. I think that Northern California (communities) could benefit from a plan such as the one in Idyllwild, because they knew how to control and contain. Aside from that, we’re going to have to look at climate and environmental issues to see how we can bring down the heat factor. We have to look at how we can work with a clean-energy economy to do that.”

Stone pointed out that he’s on a committee of lawmakers looking into the spate of fires.

“This has been the worst fire season that we’ve had, and it’s attributable, in some sense, to climate change, but it’s also due to our radical environmental policies that don’t allow us to go in and thin forests and get rid of the 129 million dead or dying trees in the state of California, all in the name of ‘environmental stewardship,’” he said.

The estimate on the dead-tree population came from the U.S. Forest Service in December 2017.

“But at the same time as environmentalists have prohibited us from going in to clear brush and trees, look at how many acres now have been completely erased from California’s landscape,” Stone continued. “How many endangered species and animals have perished in all of these fires that maybe we could have prevented? Certainly we couldn’t have prevented those involving arson, which includes two (recent) fires in my district, the Cranston Fire and the Holy Fire. But in other areas of the state, we could have prevented some of these fires potentially, or at least (lessened) the magnitude of the fires had we cleared the brush.”

The facts don’t necessarily support Stone’s position—particularly his placement of blame on environmentalists for the fires. According to an article from Aug. 7 in The Sacramento Bee, “As of 2015, through the national forests, national parks, Bureau of Land Management, and others, the federal government manages more than 40 percent of California’s total (forest) acreage. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, by comparison, manages a little more than 30 percent. The Trump administration’s own budget request for the current fiscal year and the coming one proposed slashing tens of millions of dollars from the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service budgets dedicated to the kind of tree clearing and other forest management work experts say is needed.”

Published in Politics