Tag: probation

City Budget Hunger Games: Mercer Megablock Money Grab, Probation Expansion Skeptics, Homelessness, “High-Barrier Offenders,” and More

With literally hundreds of budget amendments in play during the final weeks of city council budget deliberations, it’s almost impossible to cover every issue that’s currently in contention: From the way the police department responds to sex workers to how the proceeds of the Mercer Megablock should be spent, nearly every aspect of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget has been the subject of debate among a council that will say goodbye to at least four of its current members at the end of the year. What follows is a highly selective list of some of the proposals and policies that were in contention this past week.

The caveat for this entire post, of course, is that the city will have to completely retool its budget if Tim Eyman’s I-976, which would decimate funding for local transit, road, bridge, and transportation maintenance projects, passes on Tuesday.

• Mercer Megablock proceeds

A number of proposals would redirect or restrict funding from the sale of the Mercer Megablock property away from Durkan’s spending priorities toward other projects. Among the changes council members have proposed:

– Adding $15 million to the Office of Housing’s budget to fund low-income housing projects that are shovel-ready but unfunded under the city’s annual Notice of Funding Availability, which is perennially unable to fund all the projects that are ready to go. The funds would come from Durkan’s proposed Strategic Acquisition Fund (intended to buy land for future projects near transit) and homeownership and accessory dwelling unit loan programs that are aimed at helping moderate-income home buyers and existing homeowners get loans.

– Spending $2.45 million originally earmarked for that same fund to build a four-room child care center serving between 58 and 69 children in the basement of City Hall. Durkan, sponsor Sally Bagshaw noted, has proposed sidelining the City Hall facility and funding existing child care centers elsewhere, but “I do think that King County has solved this problem in the building right next door to us,” which has a child care center, so the city should be able to do the same thing.

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– Redirecting $2.5 million of the sale proceeds to pay for protected bike lanes in South Seattle, for a total of $10.9 million dedicated to bike facilities in the area. South Seattle—particularly Southeast Seattle—has been historically neglected in the city’s bike infrastructure spending, a fact the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board acknowledged when it recommended prioritizing projects in southeast Seattle neighborhoods in the scaled-back spending plan for the Move Seattle levy. The Seattle Department of Transportation’s implementation plan for the levy basically ignored the board’s recommendations, leaving south Seattle without a single complete connection to downtown. The $2.5 million, O’Brien said, would allow the city to either build a full protected bike lane along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, or finish out a bike lane on Beacon Hill and connect the South Park and Georgetown neighborhoods.

The current bike master plan map, which includes huge gaps in South Seattle.

• “High-barrier offenders”

The council has been generally skeptical of Durkan’s proposal—based on controversial report by former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay— to expand programs inside the criminal justice system to address people with severe addiction or mental illness who repeatedly commit low-level crimes. Durkan’s plan would expand probation and add funding for several still largely undefined programs such as “case conferencing” (in which cops and prosecutors discuss how to deal with “high-impact” individuals) and a jail-based “connector” program to direct people leaving jail after short stays to shelter and services.

Several proposals from the council would require that the city auditor take a look at how the mayor’s entire “high-barrier offender” plan would impact low-income people and people of color. Public safety committee chair Lorena Gonzalez, who also proposed zeroing out Durkan’s $170,000 proposal to expand probation, said that when she has asked judges what they’re doing to determine whether probation disproportionately harms people of color, “they have been unable to answer that question.” As for the case conferencing and “connector” pilots, Gonzalez said, “we need a concrete, developed plan from the executive and the law department before we agree to just give them the money… in a hope and prayer that they’re going to structure it appropriately.”

Bagshaw, who supports the mayor’s plan, suggested that the city auditor might not have the “expertise” to determine whether the proposal would harm people of color, and said she would prefer to set up a “roundtable” including judges and prosecutors, who generally support the proposal, and “get moving on it.” Gonzalez responded that the mayor’s plan was “admittedly a half-baked idea, and I think if we are serious about meeting some of the public safety and harm reduction strategies we have as a city, then we have to be serious about creating concrete plans with specific outcomes.” Advocates for harm reduction and pre-arrest diversion programs say the proposal simply throws more money at strategies that aren’t working.

In several related items, Gonzalez proposed funding arrest-diversion options for sex workers (who’ve been targeted by recent stings from the Seattle Police Department) and requiring SPD to work on correctly identifying people by race, including Latinx/Hispanic people. Currently, SPD doesn’t consistently track the ethnicity of the people it arrests, making it difficult to determine how Seattle’s criminal justice system impacts Latinx people.

• Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion

As I’ve reported, LEAD—a successful pre-arrest diversion program that provides case management and services to people committing low-level crimes in certain parts of the city—says it needs an additional $4.7 million a year in additional funding to keep up with growing caseloads. (Durkan’s budget essentially held LEAD’s funding steady at previous levels even though the program’s caseloads and geographic reach have been vastly expanded in recent years). The council seems poised to split the baby, partially funding LEAD with $3.5 million in new spending and directing the program’s backers to come up with private funding to pay for the rest.

“I have every bit of faith in Ms. [Lisa] Daugaard [the director of the Public Defender Association, which runs LEAD]  and the rest of us to be picking up the phone and talking to the private sector” to fund the remaining $1.2 million, Bagshaw said. Gonzalez, one of the co-sponsors (along with Kshama Sawant and Like O’Brien O’Brien) of proposals to fund the full $4.7 million with city dollars, said she had some “anxiety” about the restrictions that might apply to the private funding.

Image via Low-Income Housing Institute

• Tiny house villages

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who’s on maternity leave (so this item was introduced by Bagshaw), proposed adding $900,000 for 100 new “tiny house village” encampment spots, which Bagshaw said she would like to earmark in some way for LEAD participants. This item, which had the support of all seven council members present, was notable mostly because of Gonzalez’ comments criticizing the so-called “Poppe Report,” which (along with a related report from Focus Strategies) suggested that the city has enough funding for homelessness and opposed tiny house villages and other kinds of interim encampments. The city and King County are about to release another series of reports, including one by Focus Strategies, as part of the Regional Action Plan that will inform the planned consolidation of the city and county’s homelessness agencies.

“One of the most unfortunate things that came out of that Poppe report was her absolute expression of disdain for tiny villages, [which] has hurt our city’s efforts to really provide meaningful solutions,” Gonzalez said. “I have really appreciated the fact that as city leadership we have, in a lot of ways, bucked that predisposition or ideology that she expressed in her report and really have committed to the tiny house village concept.”

• The Navigation Team

Durkan’s budget (like last year’s) seeks permanent funding for two new Navigation Team members (out of four added outside the normal budget process this year), both of whom were funded this year with one-time funds. Sawant’s proposal to eliminate the team—the subject of much hand-wringing among right-wing and even mainstream media last month—predictably received no support, while Lisa Herbold’s extension of a proviso that requires the team to report on what it’s doing appears poised to pass. The biggest debate last week was actually over a proposal, from Debora Juarez, to expand the team yet again to include two new members dedicated specifically to her North Seattle district, which Juarez says is overrun with dangerous encampments that need to be removed. Continue reading “City Budget Hunger Games: Mercer Megablock Money Grab, Probation Expansion Skeptics, Homelessness, “High-Barrier Offenders,” and More”

New Plan for Dealing With “Prolific Offenders” Substitutes Punishment for Harm Reduction, Advocates Say

Advocates for harm reduction took strong exception to a set of recommendations from a joint city-county “High Barrier Individuals Working Group”, arguing that several of the proposals are just extensions of the existing, punishment-based criminal justice system rather than the kind of programs that make meaningful, lasting change in the lives of people suffering from severe addiction and mental illness.

The four-pronged plan, which Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced last week, came out of the recommendations of a work group assembled to respond to former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay’s controversial “System Failure” report last year. That report looked at the records of 100 people with long lists of misdemeanor charges and determined that many of them had failed to comply with conditions imposed by the court, such as mandatory abstinence-based treatment, random drug and alcohol tests, and appearing regularly in court.

“We have too many people who’ve been cycling through the criminal justice system and we have not been able to design the right interventions for that,” Durkan said in announcing the proposals last week. “We had some of the highest-cost interventions that were also the least effective. We knew we needed to come together and bring people across jurisdictions to address this issue.” Satterberg described the proposal’s goals more bluntly: City and county officials needed a way “to manage what we see as obvious social disorder.”

The four pillars of the plan, which would be partly funded through Durkan’s upcoming budget proposal, are:

Expanded probation. This would include a new “high-barrier caseload” model, in which probation officers (described in the recommendations as “probation counselors”) would meet with parolees outside the probation office and parolees would be required to show up in court more frequently; and a “high-barrier treatment” model, in which offenders would get reduced sentences in exchange for going to inpatient addiction treatment.

According to Durkan, “probation counselors” with “special training in harm reduction…will meet with individuals where they are in the field, have more frequent review hearings with judges, and give people that chance to spend less time in jail only if they agree to certain dependency treatment.”

Harm reduction advocates say adding more obstacles, such as additional mandatory court dates and coercive treatment,  represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept, which relies on non-coercive tactics to help people achieve better health, fewer arrests, and a better quality of life. This, in turn, reduces the harm they cause the community. They also argue that sending probation officers out into the field to track down clients and provide “counseling” will cause confusion and could lead to greater harm to people on probation, because probation officers (unlike real counselors) are obligated to tell the judge if a client is violating the terms of their probation.

“It would be incongruous and disingenuous to train probation officers in harm reduction counseling if the judges—to whom the probation officers report—were to use coercion to force people into mandated and abstinence-based treatment and require abstinence in return for reduced sentencing.”

“I’ve found in my clinical practice that clients start to get confused when parole officers start calling themselves ‘probation counselors’ because they start to think, ‘I can tell this person anything, and, I can tell them how I’m really doing,’ but [the probation officers] are still in this adversarial role,” says Susan Collins, co-director of the Harm Reduction Research and Treatment (HaRRT) Center at the University of Washington. For example, if someone on probation told their “probation counselor” that he was struggling to abstain from drugs and alcohol, the officer would have to report that to a judge as a probation violation, which could land the parolee back in jail.

Mandatory treatment is also contrary to harm reduction, because it makes sobriety, rather than improved outcomes, the goal. “Harm reduction doesn’t have to be at odds with serving protecting public safety. In fact, these goals would seem to be very compatible if we weren’t so fixated on abstinence achievement as a proxy for not committing crimes.” Moreover, it isn’t very effective, especially for people with severe drug and alcohol use disorders who are also facing other major challenges such as a criminal record and homelessness.

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The “success” rate of short-term inpatient treatment, which is what the report recommends for parolees struggling with substance use disorders, is abysmally low already (about 9 out of 10 people with alcohol disorders who enter inpatient treatment, for example, relapse in the first four years), and the “success” rate for people with no support system or place to live when they get out is likely even lower. Although the work group’s report quotes an NIH pamphlet saying that “treatment does not have to be voluntary to be effective,” that pamphlet does not include links to actual research, which shows that although forced treatment can work, it usually doesn’t. The most recent research on the kind of severely addicted, chronically homeless people the probation proposal is supposed to address, Collins points out, actually showed that mandatory 28-day inpatient treatment was the least effective form of treatment.

“In addition to the nonexistent research foundation for coerced or mandated abstinence-based treatment for this population, the proposed approach is troubling philosophically,” Collins says. “It would be incongruous and disingenuous to train probation officers in harm reduction counseling if the judges—to whom the probation officers report—were to use coercion to force people into mandated and abstinence-based treatment and require abstinence in return for reduced sentencing. This is like a bait-and-switch for some of the most vulnerable folks in our community.”

Harm reduction advocates say adding more obstacles, such as additional mandatory court dates and coercive treatment,  represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept, which relies on non-coercive tactics to help people achieve better health, fewer arrests, and a better quality of life.

Holmes, speaking last week, said expanded probation, with enforcement mechanisms like “random UAs [drug tests]” and consequences for noncompliance, would be complementary to LEAD’s “softer touch.” “We’re talking about a challenging population that does need the specter of a court intervention or revocation hearing [that] can follow when someone doesn’t comply with the terms of their probation. … We do have to [consider] public safety first, and a probation officer is going to be able to bring noncompliance to our attention so that probation can be revoked and sentencing reimposed as necessary.”

Collins, with the HaRRT Center, says “harm reduction”—like the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s successful program for people with alcohol use disorders at 1811 Eastlake— “doesn’t have to be at odds with serving protecting public safety. In fact, these goals would seem to be very compatible if we weren’t so fixated on abstinence achievement as a proxy for not committing crimes.”

The expansion of a recently opened shelter in the decommissioned west wing of the King County jail by 60 beds, which Durkan suggested could be reserved for “high-barrier offenders.” Durkan claimed last week that the shelter would be a “comprehensive place-based treatment center” with “on-site treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders… something that doesn’t exist” yet in the city.

This statement—repeated by the Seattle Times, which described the shelter as a “60-bed treatment center”—is inaccurate.

“It’s going to be a shelter,” says DESC director Daniel Malone. “So, just to be really clear—it’s not going to be licensed as a treatment facility, but we will bring behavioral health treatment resources there. … What we do in a lot of our locations is have a regular, often scheduled, presence of different kinds of behavioral health specialists there to engage with people, form relationships, and help them access services.” (City officials were apparently asked to stop referring to the shelter as a treatment center prior to Durkan’s remarks last week.) Continue reading “New Plan for Dealing With “Prolific Offenders” Substitutes Punishment for Harm Reduction, Advocates Say”