Some counties pick up bill for others
Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/07/2011 09:47:18 PM PDT

San Bernardino and Alameda counties may be statistically similar in terms of crime rate, but officials in San Bernardino send twice as many to prison and the county uses more state corrections money than its Bay Area counterpart, according to a new policy report.

W. David Ball, a criminal law professor at Santa Clara University and the author of the study, says the situation isn’t fair.

Ball spent the past decade comparing imprisonment statistics from all the state’s 58 counties and found that 18 of them, including San Bernardino County, fell into a category of high state-prison usage.

“The state is paying for San Bernardino’s decision to treat crime with prison, but Alameda – indeed any California citizen who does not live in San Bernardino – has no say in electing the people who design San Bernardino’s criminal- justice policies,” Ball said in the report released last week.

“Why should the state pay for a decision only some of its citizens make, when residents of other counties make different decisions?”

Ball says the state could be getting a better bang for its buck if it sent prison money to areas of the state with the highest violent-crime rates, instead of equally throughout the counties.

If counties want to use more prison services than the statistical average, Ball says they should pay for it.

“They definitely have the same violent-crime problems, but San Bernardino uses much more prison, and that’s their policy,” Ball said. “Given that that’s a policy decision, I don’t think the state should pay for San Bernardino and not pay for Alameda County. If San Bernardino wants to use prison a lot more, that’s their right. But I think it’s not fair that the state pays for all prison commitments, and it doesn’t pay for other kinds of criminal-justice dispositions.”

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said he disagrees with Ball’s argument and says partnership with private prisons would be a better idea to cut costs.

“I don’t think San Bernardino needs Sacramento to tell us how we should sentence criminals,” Donnelly said. “I think that’s a really slippery slope. I think what Sacramento ought to focus on is why, when they do incarcerate prisoners at the state level, they can’t get any of it right. I mean, Texas has the same amount of prisoners, and they do it with a third of the cost.”

Donnelly also called into question the comparison figures used in the study.

“I don’t think you should make a comparison with Alameda County, which has half a million less people,” Donnelly said. “San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States, and to compare it to a tiny little county like Alameda is ridiculous.”

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