Over the past year, 574 criminal defendants in Santa Barbara County entered a diversion program known as pre-trial supervision: Of those, 426 completed it; of those, 339 completed it successfully without reoffending. This information elicited enthusiastic responses from all five county supervisors this Tuesday.
On the table was a report on the 10th year of a statewide program — known obliquely as “realignment” — designed to get prisoners out of the state’s overcrowded prison system and shifted to county jails. This, in turn, put pressure on county jails to divest themselves of less serious offenders or to keep them out in the first place.
Playing a leading role in this effort has been County Probation Chief Tanja Heitman, who basked in the glow of unanimous supervisorial praise Tuesday for being responsive to the supervisors’ impatience for greater reform of the criminal justice system. When the supervisors expressed strong interest three weeks ago in the creation of a data dashboard detailing how many charges are filed, whether they are felony or misdemeanor, and the extent to which there’s a race-based discrepancy in the disposition and outcomes, Heitman took the lead in initiating a collaborative process with the Sheriff’s and the District Attorney’s offices to make this happen. At that meeting, both the sheriff and the DA expressed reservations about the accuracy of the data that might go into such a dashboard.
Gregg Hart, who is leading the charge to keep the county jail population down at the historic lows it’s been hovering at since the COVID pandemic struck, was adamant about the need for such data. “What are the numbers? What do they mean? What are the implications?” he asked. “We can’t make proper decisions if we don’t know what the numbers are.”
Andy Caldwell, spokesperson for COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business), expressed the only cautionary word, warning that what he called “the decriminalization movement” was “too much, too fast.”