Meeting the Challenge: Tehama County’s AB 109 Auto Shop
April is National County Government Month. During the month, CSAC is producing a series of videos and blog postings highlighting California Counties’ best practices. The programs we are spotlighting are recipients of our annual Challenge Awards, which recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The Call for Entries for the 2014 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month; the entry deadline is June 27, 2014.
To view a video about Tehama County’s “AB 109 Auto Shop” click here.
Everyone likes a “Win-Win” situation—a solution to a problem that meets everyone’s needs. In Tehama County, they had a problem, and the solution they came up with has been a “win” on several levels. The AB 109 Auto Shop won a 2013 CSAC Challenge Award because it is reducing the jail population, training inmates, saving money for the Sheriff’s Department AND reducing costs and downtime for other county departments when their vehicles need maintenance and repairs. Here’s how it works.
A couple of years ago, Tehama County Sheriff Dave Hencratt needed to reduce his jail population and find ways to reduce recidivism in his community. This was all part of AB 109—Public Safety Realignment—a state law that transferred a significant number of low-risk criminal offenders from state jurisdiction to the counties.
Sheriff Hencratt applied for a grant and used that seed money to open the AB 109 Auto Shop. He says all the pieces fell into place. They rented a closed down repair shop and brought in Deputy Rich Ryan to run the program. He’s an experienced deputy, who also happens to have a lot of experience fixing cars. And they found there were a number of jail inmates who wanted a second chance, and needed job training too.
They started small, changing oil, doing other light maintenance and minor repairs on the sheriff’s cars. But within a few months, they were not only doing major repair work and regular maintenance on a whole fleet of vehicles, they were also “building” new sheriff’s vehicles. Well, not from the ground up—but starting with the basic shell of a new car, the AB 109 Auto Shop adds all the wiring, lights, computers, racks, bars, and other gear that a Sheriff’s car needs. It saves several thousand dollars per vehicle. The program has been so successful that other Tehama County departments are bringing their vehicles in to the AB 109 Auto Shop too.
The shop succeeds in so many ways, it saves money by reducing the jail population and the costs for fixing and maintaining the County’s cars. But more than that—there is a sense of camaraderie in the shop that is just as important to its success as any cost-benefit analysis. The Sheriff and deputies running the program expect the offenders to follow the rules, be on time, work hard, and to learn—but in exchange they treat them with respect, trust and even friendship.
Several of the “graduates” now have paying jobs at professional shops. One of them, a man with 20-plus years as a mechanic has stayed on at the AB 109 Auto Shop and is now a paid employee of the Sheriff’s Department helping to run the program. What the offenders learn about fixing cars is important. What they learn about themselves and what’s possible is even more so. That’s a Win-Win-Win-Win-Win situation that Tehama County can be proud of.
Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.
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