Corrections officials hope to cut state prison population by 40,000
Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Created: 07/09/2011 10:19:28 PM PDT

County jail officials are bracing for a significant influx of prisoners as the state gets closer to sending them thousands of low-level inmates.

Space for those inmates and continuing funds to support them are key concerns for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The state must comply with a federal court order to reduce by 2013 its prison population by about 40,000 in order to relieve crowding and improve conditions.

The 2011-2012 state budget provides $5 billion from sales and vehicle taxes to local governments in order to implement the transfer plan.

Lawmakers delayed the program so it will now begin Oct. 1, instead of this month, to provide time for the state and local agencies to prepare for the transfers.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department houses 5,500 inmates, with a capacity for 6,100. Lance Clark, deputy chief in charge of detentions and corrections for the department, said realignment could bring up to an additional 8,500 inmates to the county, and local agencies are working to mitigate that impact.

In Los Angeles County, jails currently hold about 16,000 inmates with overall jail capacity at 22,000, said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Over a period of two years, Los Angeles County could see 10,000 to 11,000 additional inmates going to jail and parole in the county, he said.

“Basically what’s happened is they’ve come up with a deal this year, and there’s not much sense of a guarantee that the funding will be sustained for the following years,” Clark said. “It’s a switch that could put all of the counties into a bind starting next year.”

Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, said the governor’s policy of moving prisoners to county facilities is flawed.

“Even if we had all the money in the world to fund this, there’s no room at the county jails for these inmates, so regardless of the budgeting or funding for it, where are you gonna actually put these bodies?” Hagman said.

Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, said lawmakers will continue to keep an eye on the county crowding issue.

“Should there be an influx, I think absolutely we will be open to go back and look at how they’re being impacted,” she said.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said Gov. Jerry Brown will push for voters in 2012 to be allowed to consider a constitutional amendment to protect the funding stream for the responsibility shift in the years ahead.

Palmer said the 2011-12 budget provides $376million for the housing of low-level inmates by the counties for the last nine months of the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. Palmer said lawmakers provided another $857million for the following year as the program ramps up.

The plan will give local law enforcement responsibility over adult offenders convicted of crimes that are considered nonviolent and nonserious, such as property, white collar and drug offenses. Those convicted of sexual offenses will not be eligible for transfer to county jails.

State corrections officials hope to reduce the state’s prison population by up to 40,000 inmates over three years, leaving about 120,000 inmates.

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