Supervisor Gary Ovitt
Created: 04/16/2011 07:08:35 AM PDT
On April 4, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, which would shift thousands of state prison inmates to the custody of local law enforcement. At a time of budget shortfalls, swollen local jail populations and when two-thirds of California counties are under court-ordered or self-imposed population caps for local jails.
This flawed measure is designed to reduce the number of inmates in California’s chronically overcrowded state lockups by releasing thousands of felons who have committed a laundry list of crimes including preying on children and seniors. This legislation serves as a “get out of jail free” card for approximately 68,000 criminals who should remain in state prison.
Gov. Brown said the program would not begin until the state has money – hundreds of millions of dollars – to transfer to local authorities to defray the costs. Much of that funding is expected to come from the governor’s proposed renewal of several tax hikes that will have expired by the July 1 start of the new budget year.
His attempts to get the taxes on a ballot for voter approval, as he promised while running for election, have so far been unsuccessful, and there is no indication his latest attempt will be any more successful.
Even if the county received adequate funding for the program, there is no available jail space available to house the flood of new inmates. There is no room at the inn!
What I am equally concerned about is the tendency for state government to dump programs on local government without the funds to pay for the programs. This “unfunded mandate” activity is all too familiar. It forces our county to spend money for unbudgeted activities at a time we are in a budget crisis as well. Just because the state can’t get its budget house in order is no reason to make local government pay for the state’s ineptitude.
Opponents of the inmate plan refer to the legislation as the “get a dog, buy a gun and install an alarm system” bill. They argue that some inmates will have to be freed from local jails early to make room for those who would otherwise have been shipped to prison.
Nothing in the governor’s proposal requires local law enforcement to be reimbursed for the full costs of the realignment or protects funds allocated to “public safety” from primarily being used for human services programs.
The prison system is required to perform a detailed physical examination and mental health screening, and an investigation of potential gang affiliation, for each inmate to determine where in the department’s sprawling, 33-prison complex they should be housed. That process takes about three months. Local sheriffs would be given broader authority to reduce sentences.
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