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AB 1250 will hurt critical public safety reforms

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AB 1250, which is currently moving through the California Legislature, would have detrimental effects on critical public safety reforms in California.

In short, the bill makes the process excessively onerous for county departments to contract with third parties for services. The goal of the bill is to use county employees to deliver all services at the county level. While this goal may be well-intentioned, it is simply not possible to do this without sacrificing the great public safety work implemented by local governments.

California has undertaken brave and bold steps in our criminal justice system that have created a responsive system with more localized control to better meet public safety needs through an integrated approach of rehabilitation, accountability, and mental health services.

Third-party contracts are vital partnerships in delivering a continuum of evidence-based programming for the youth and adults probation serves. One of the aspects of probation that has made these reforms so successful is our ability to innovate and be responsive to the needs of our clients and a changing criminal justice system.

More and more probation is tasked with implementing a very complex system that is full of intricacies within the laws we enforce, services we provide and system reforms we implement.

Yet, largely based on the flexibility third-party contracting gives us, probation has continued to innovate and move quickly to meet the needs of an ever-changing population while also meeting the vision of system reforms given to us by the state.

If we lose our ability to be innovative and responsive, the historic justice reforms California is undertaking are ultimately going to fail.

We must continue to have the flexibility to innovate and be responsive to reforms in order for us to be successful in our mission of protecting public safety, lowering recidivism and rehabilitating those coming back to our communities.

And thus far, we have been very successful. But the effects of AB 1250 will significantly impact probation and how we deliver services to some of the most vulnerable Californians. Probation departments work very closely with community-based organizations, nonprofits, and other providers to deliver these critical services for the care, treatment, and programming services for youth and adults.

AB 1250 would severely slow this process down and tie our hands, making us unable to do what we do best. Historic reforms have never been successful when the process is weighed down by making an already complex system even more complex.

Constraining our ability to contract with those who have the most expertise, and can provide the most efficient and cost-effective services would heap new layers of bureaucracy on an already extremely complex system.

In Napa County, for instance, our probation department uses third-party contracts to deliver a variety of services, including a contract with Aldea Children and Family Services to provide mental health and substance abuse services to youth in Juvenile Hall, at Chamberlain High School and in the Evening Reporting Center. These services have enabled youth to stay in their community rather than being placed in residential treatment. The staff at Aldea is critical to delivering the programming we need to rehabilitate the youth on probation.

The positive impacts of this program simply would not be possible under the stipulations of AB 1250. Napa County is too small of a county to realistically employ a staff like Aldea with the history, knowledge and expertise needed to deliver specialized services to adolescents. Adding to this would mean we simply could not deliver these services that protect public safety and rehabilitate our youth.

The requirements in AB 1250 that must be met in order for a county to enter into a contract for services is so laborious and expensive that it would effectively stifle the ability of probation to contract for very important services for both the juvenile and adult populations we serve.

In doing so, the measure would increase taxpayers’ costs and seriously jeopardize public safety reforms.

AB 1250 is widely opposed by 49 California county Boards of Supervisors, including Napa County, and a vast coalition that includes children’s advocates, hospitals and health care providers, public safety groups, businesses, and advocates for seniors.

In the interest of California successfully implementing historic public safety reforms, we strongly urge a ‘No’ vote on AB 1250.

Mary Butler is Napa County Chief Probation Officer. Mark Bontrager is executive director Aldea Children and Family Services.

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