A San Bernardino County sheriff s deputy locks a cell at the Central Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino on Friday. A bill recently signed into law will provide financing for expanding county jail facilities. (Gabriel Luis Acosta/Staff Photographer)

FREEING UP STATE FUNDS
Bill enables counties to have an easier time expanding facilities to handle the planned thousands of transferred state prisoners
By Neil Nisperos Staff Writer
Created: 05/27/2011 04:42:18 PM PDT

Local sheriff’s departments are pleased that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that would ease financing for expanding county jail facilities to handle the up to 40,000 state prisoners who may be transferred to local lockups.

Brown recently signed an amendment to Assembly Bill 94 that will allow counties to put up just 10 percent of a jail’s overall cost, rather than the current 25 percent.

The change would make it easier for counties to tap into $1.2 billion approved for jail financing by state lawmakers in 2007.

The money would also help counties build more jail space as the state hands them oversight of some lower-level convicts and parolees.

The U.S. Supreme Court this week left intact federal court orders requiring California to rid its overcrowded prisons of tens of thousands of inmates within the next two years.

Supporters of the amendment say counties need more money to handle so many new inmates, but are struggling to come up with the matching money because their revenues have fallen amid the recession.

Brown is also trying to shift other state responsibilities to counties to close the state budget deficit.

Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said funding will now be more proportionate to the inmate population of a county.

“This is good for us,” Whitmore said. “They wrote some of the rules where they took into account the size of the county and, in essence, because of the large number of inmates in L.A. County, we moved up to the head of the class. Also, with the 10 percent, we could conceivably get up to $100 million, so it’s a good move for us.”

About half the funding from the 2007 bill has been awarded to 11 counties that have agreed to match a quarter of the cost. Those counties cannot reapply for the 10 percent rate if they have spent any of the money.

While most counties are eligible for the 10 percent match, Sgt. Dave Phelps, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, said the county had already put up a 25 percent match for the construction of the $120 million Adelanto Detention Center expansion project. The expansion is expected to be completed within the next two years.

“Sheriff (Rod) Hoops is supportive of any sheriff that is able to utilize A.B. 94 funds at the lower 10 percent match, if signed by the governor,” Phelps said.

Curtis Hill, legislative representative for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said his organization sponsored the bill.

“The bottom line is that this legislation helps every county that wishes to apply for it in the future,” Hill said. “It helps every county that wants to apply for future jail expansion funds.”

Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, was one of 14 lawmakers who voted against the amendment. He cited the reapplication clause, calling it a “simple issue of equity and changing rules during the middle of the game.”

“San Bernardino County came up with the money, and they had to put up more of their own money and it’s not a very fair way to do it,” Hagman said. “They’re saying counties like San Bernardino have excess money. It hurts San Bernardino more than it will hurt the other counties.”

Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, also did not support A.B. 94.

“This isn’t over, we are going to continue to push to ensure that San Bernardino County receives the same local match requirements as any other county,” Torres said.

“I’ve already had a conversation with the speaker’s budget staff to adjust the rules so that San Bernardino County can benefit from the lower 10 percent match as any other county would.”

Under the new version of A.B. 94, no county could receive more than $100 million.

Jennifer Walsh, professor of political science at Azusa Pacific University and a former board member of the Association for Criminal Justice Research, said that easing the financial burden on counties will help with the practical aspects of housing additional prisoners, but it won’t go far enough toward inmate services.

“Incarcerating felons for long periods of time has traditionally been a function of the state prison system and, over time, prisons have developed the infrastructural capabilities to meet the physical, social and medical needs of inmates who spend more than a year behind bars,” Walsh said.

“Unless the funding is dramatically increased, county facilities will not be able to offer these same essential services.”

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