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Supervisors approve conditions for pre-trial release pilot program

A YouTube meeting with six people on the left and a slide about SB 129 funding on the right.
Chief Probation Officer Izen Locatelli gave the Board of Supervisors a presentation on a pre-trial release program at this week's meeting

April 7, 2022 — The Board of Supervisors took on criminal justice, trash, and housing at this week’s meeting, though a hearing to consider a permit to convert a Willits-area motel to apartments was postponed until May third.

The board approved a pre-trial pilot program to monitor people who have been booked into jail, can’t afford bail, and are likely to show up to their next court date if they are released from jail. The monitoring would include a range of measures like cell phone reminders about court dates to in-person visits by a probation officer, ankle monitors, and drug testing, so that people who have not yet been tried could stay out of jail.

The probation department would receive the one-time state funds of about $406,000 to hire more personnel and buy more equipment, like ankle monitors and computers. The Board already approved three more full time employees for the probation department, and if those hires succeed, the county would have to rely partly on the general fund to pay for their ongoing employment.

Mendocino County does not currently have a pre-trial monitoring program, which means that often people who have been arrested wait for their court dates in jail. But last year, the Supreme Court of California decided that the state’s bail system was unconstitutional, because bail is set according to a county schedule according to the crime, rather than the defendant’s record or ability to pay. In 2017, Kenneth Humphrey was arrested in San Francisco for robbing an elderly man of a $5 bottle of cologne. He couldn’t pay his bail, so he spent a year in jail waiting for his court date. A public defender and a civil rights group appealed his case, and now courts are supposed to consider several factors when calculating a defendant’s bail. One is public safety, and another is the arrestee’s ability to pay.

Chief Probation Officer Izen Locatelli told the board that the county has had a couple of short-lived pre-trial programs. The most recent, which ended in 2015, included assessments but no monitoring.

“Since that time, there’s been no pre-trial release program operating in Mendocino County,” he reported. “And we’re one of about six or seven counties that have no type of operating pre-trial program.” Present release options include field citations, where the person cited is not actually taken to jail but is expected to appear. Arrestees can also be released from jail if they promise to appear. Most commonly, people post bail. They can also be set free on their own recognizance at an arraignment. “You’re not monitored, you’re not supervised, you’re out on your own recognizance, and you’re supposed to follow the terms set by the court as you go through the proceedings,” he elaborated.

Locatelli can’t say for sure how many people would participate in the program, though he estimated it could be 40-60. And he told Supervisor Glenn McGourty the current criteria for assessing defendants is ambiguous. “The candidate that you’re looking for is somebody with a minimal prior history of criminal conduct, but they’ve committed a felony,” he said. “The court essentially brings the person before them at arraignment and tries to make decisions on whether they should be released or not. Those decisions are made on the fly, a gut instinctual feeling. There’s no assessment that they’re looking at. They don’t have any criminality studies except for what the DA has at that time. So this assessment, which is on a validated assessment tool, would give the court a better understanding if they should be released or not on pre-trial. You know, $20,000 bail might be impossible for someone to afford, if they don’t have a job. So you want somebody who’s going to be released from custody, they’re essentially being taken care of by the county, there’s less liability, they’re back in the community potentially going back to work and contributing while they go through the court process. But you also don’t want to release them with no supervision, monitoring expectation, terms. That also doesn’t warrant public safety.”

The board approved a memorandum of understanding with the courts to implement the program through June of 2024, and authorized the probation department to receive the funds from the state. Interim CEO Darcie Antle said the executive office is starting to prepare the budget this week, and will present details at a supervisors’ workshop on April 19.

On May 3, the board will hold a hearing regarding an appeal of a minor use permit to convert the former White Deer Lodge motel into 21 units of affordable housing. The property, just south of Willits at the top of the grade, is owned by the Church of the Golden Rule. Julia Krog of Planning and Building signed an initial study last month, declaring the department’s intention to prepare a negative declaration for the project. But Joe Cooper of Redwood Valley appealed the categorical CEQA exemption, arguing that there is no proof of adequate water supply, the project does not comply with seismic laws, and that there is no proper assurance that the proposal is an affordable housing project. Proper notice was not established this week.

And the board formed an ad hoc committee composed of Supervisors Maureen Mulheren and Dan Gjerde to form a pilot program to clean up illegal dumping, including issuing vouchers to people to cover their dump fees. MendoRecycle, which has a website where residents can pinpoint the location of illegal trash, is currently looking for a new General Manager. According to a presentation attached to the agenda, the agency plans to start working again with the jail and the probation department to clean up illegal dump sites.

Local News
Sarah Reith is the lead reporter for KZYX News. She joined the KZYX News team in 2017, and covers local politics, water, law enforcement and the arts in Mendocino County.