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The new BSCC: Real opportunity for reform?

In this era of Realignment, California has an opportunity to redefine the state's role in community corrections by highlighting the need for oversight and accountability.  Last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released a list of recommendations from the Executive Steering Committee for the new Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC).  The Implementation Recommendations document outlines five goals that the BSCC should prioritize immediate when the agency officially launches on July 1, 2012.

The Board of State and Community Corrections was created by Senate Bill 92 as part of the adult Realignment process last year.   The new agency is mostly a reconfiguration of the former Corrections Standards Authority (CSA); however, it also incorporates the former Office of Gang and Youth Violence Prevention and the former California Council on Criminal Justice.  The CSA was previously under CDCR's jurisdiction, an arrangement viewed by many advocates and criminal justice experts as inhibiting CSA's ability to provide critical accountability over state prison and county jail conditions, use of funding by counties, and tracking outcome measurements.  The new agency is comprised of an independent 12-member board, predominantly comprised of statewide law enforcement officials, but also has one placement for an advocate on juvenile justice policy, another for a community provider of rehabilitative treatment, and final slot for a community representative appointed by the Governor.

The BSCC's mandate under Senate Bill 92 reflects the state's movement towards increasing the responsibility for adult and juvenile offenders at the local level.  The mandate stated below demonstrates the importance of a consistent and fair approach to juvenile and criminal justice; thus eliminating the state's current "justice by geography" approach to sentencing.  

"The mission of the board shall include providing statewide leadership, coordination, and technical assistance to promote effective state and local efforts and partnerships in California's adult and juvenile criminal justice system, including addressing gang problems . . . to promote a justice investment strategy that fits each county and is consistent with the integrated statewide goal of improved public safety through cost-effective, promising, and evidence-based strategies for managing criminal justice populations."

The five goals from the CDCR's Implementation Recommendations report emphasize the reduction of juvenile and adult recidivism, limiting overall term public safety by using data-driven model practices, corrections costs by prioritizing positive rehabilitative outcomes, and increasing long-term public safety by using data-driven model practices.

Echoing dozens of criminal justice experts and policy advocacy organizations, including CJCJ and the Legislative Analysts Office, the report calls for the creation of a statewide data hub for "standardized outcome-based community corrections program data collection and reporting," recognizing that accurate and updated data collection is an essential component for correctional system accountability and long-term reform.  Corollary to this, the recommendations include the development of a uniform risk and needs assessment model that could be utilized throughout California.

Finally, the recommendations also suggest that the BSCC establish funding mechanisms that "create successful performance-based programs with accountability," that include foundation partnerships to "test and support new and innovative program concepts," and that would "rescind funding from ineffective strategies."  Criminal justice funding should be viewed as a precious resource in California and should be directed only to those programs that are delivering effective long-term results.

From the opening paragraphs of the report, it is clear that juvenile justice reform should receive equal consideration as adult corrections under the BSCC's mission and mandate.    The report recognizes historic juvenile justice reforms in California under SB 81 and AB 1628; policy changes that keep more youth closer to home, prioritize community-based services, and require counties to serve a higher level of youth offenders locally.  While there is minimal mention of the gang policy mandate within the Board's mission, it is a welcome development to see juvenile corrections receive parity with adult corrections in the recommendations.

If the BSCC were to follow the five goals and related objectives of the Executive Steering Committee, this new state agency could have the regulatory and financial teeth to create real accountability around criminal justice systems throughout California.

Legislators, policy advocates, and community-based groups have an equally important role in applying ongoing pressure on and support to this new agency so that it may fulfill its mission and promise.  The BSCC has the potential to become an exemplar agency for accountability, policy research, and for moving California towards best practices in criminal justice policy and implementation.  

Keywords: AB 109, Brian Heller de Leon, BSCC

Posted in Blog, Realignment

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