Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Los Angeles County’s probation department initially underestimated how much mental health, substance abuse and anger management counseling that probationers released from state prison would need, but treatment programs have started to yield results, authorities said Tuesday.

Probation chief Jerry Powers told the Board of Supervisors that the department’s mistake was basing its assessment on information it had on offenders before they went to prison.

“They actually came out worse than when they went in,” Powers told the board. “(We) undershot what was needed.”

Probationers returned to Los Angeles County with significant substance abuse and anger management issues, he said, and many are largely unemployable.

It’s at the point of re-entry, when they are first returning to the community, that probationers are under the greatest stress and most likely to commit another crime, according to experts.

Treatment programs have led to significantly higher rates of employment, a 27 percent decrease in homelessness, fewer emergency room visits and health problems, in addition to a drop in substance abuse, according to a report prepared by the Department of Public Health.

“Not that everyone quit using drugs, but it’s clear that we’re moving the needle in the right direction,” said Wesley Ford, who runs the department’s substance abuse prevention efforts. “Substance abuse … is a major driver of health care costs.”

The focus on treatment comes as the county, reacting to community pressure, is also pushing to divert mentally ill offenders into community-based programs rather than having them serve jail time.

The population of probationers — up dramatically due to AB 109, a state law that shifted responsibility for low-level offenders to county jails and probation departments — has dropped by about 13 percent due to re-sentencing under Proposition 47.

But Powers said his department is still “taxed, we are acting at maximum energy … to stay on top of this population.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she’d like to extend treatment to more ex- offenders, giving them a “second chance.”

Those now eligible are probationers who come out of prison or who serve sentences split between jail time and probation.

Kuehl wants to expand eligibility to include those sentenced only to jail time or released from prison after re-sentencing under either propositions 47 or 36. Prop. 47 reclassifies certain offenses as misdemeanors and Prop. 36 is the so-called “three strikes” law.

Her proposal will be taken up next week.

¯ Wire reports 

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