Merced sheriff unveils vision for AB 109 locally with new Trident Center

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 28, 2013 

MERCED — Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin on Thursday unveiled a new one-stop shop to provide various services to county jail inmates released under the guidelines established by Assembly Bill 109, the state's prison realignment law.

Across from the Sheriff's Department, a building at 777 W. 22nd St. will house multiple agencies: sheriff's deputies and correctional officers, probation officers, and Human Services and Mental Health officials.

A total of 25 employees will use the building. They will work with those released under AB 109 as well as some high-risk offenders who are on probation and gang members, said Chief Probation Officer Scott Ball.

Dubbed the Trident Center because of its three-pronged vision, Pazin said the idea is a "unique concept" that they hope will be a template for the rest of California.

"I think we are on the cutting edge of how we are going to progress alternative-sentencing programs," Pazin said.

The three prongs of the approach are public safety, reduced recidivism through rehabilitation and alternatives to custody, Ball said during Thursday's press conference.

After being released under AB 109, the inmates on electronic monitoring or home confinement often had to travel across town to access the various agencies that monitor and serve them. By bringing them to one destination, officials said the process becomes more effective.

In addition to the Probation and Sheriff's departments, the Human Services and Mental Health agencies will provide services in the Trident Center.

Mental Health Director Manuel Jimenez Jr. said a clinician and dual-diagnosis specialist will work from the Trident Center to provide case management as well as drug and alcohol counseling.

Over the years, Pazin said, the vacant building has gone through a lot of changes. It has been used as a bank and an environmental health building.

He thanked Merced County Chief Executive Officer Jim Brown and the Board of Supervisors for their "vision and perseverance" in rehabilitating the building.

Officials said there won't be any costs associated with the Trident Center since it's a county building. "We want to acknowledge the county for giving this building to us without any cost to our AB 109 allocation," said Ball. "Through this effort we hope to meet all of these goals."

Currently, the county's AB 109 caseload is 106 people, according to Sheriff's Department documents. Since 2011, there have been 213 inmates in the AB 109 program.

Under AB 109, thousands of inmates who normally would have gone to state prison are doing their time in local jurisdictions. Those eligible for AB 109 are non-sexual, nonviolent and non-serious offenders.

The law has come under fire from some law enforcement officials who claim it increases crime. Pazin, a stalwart supporter of AB 109, has previously pointed to studies that bring that notion into question, such as a recent report by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. The report, which analyzed recent FBI statistics, said that although violent and property crimes have gone up in 40 of 69 of California's largest cities in the first half of 2012, there is no correlation between those increases and AB 109.

Sheriff's Department officials maintain the program is more cost-effective than incarceration. If kept inside a jail, each inmate costs $156 a day, as opposed to $17 a day for AB 109 monitoring -- a cost savings of $14,352 a day, they said.

Pazin said during Thursday's press conference that Merced County law enforcement is on the cutting edge when it comes to reinventing themselves.

"We in law enforcement have to continue to re-evaluate how we do business," he said. "Thanks to everyone's help, we're able to facilitate that under one roof."

A report released this week by the California State Sheriff's Association states that counties under AB 109 are housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less.

Pazin said there are currently three inmates in Merced County's jail system who are serving sentences between five and 10 years.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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