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Local jails cannot bear burden of housing state prison inmates

POSTED January 22, 2010 11:38 p.m.
California’s budget crisis has impacted every level of government: State, county, and city. Painful cuts have been and will continue to be made in all areas. Inevitably up and down the state, counties and local governments are looking at another year of reduced budgets and additional cuts to the point that many police chiefs and sheriffs are being forced to lay off police officers and deputy sheriffs.
Unfortunately, the governor cites the budget crisis as a need to make tough choices. Communities need to know that the effect of this proposal is to unwisely dump state prison inmates into county jails which are not able to safely accommodate the increased population. The governor’s budget proposal dumps inmates from overcrowded prisons into overcrowded jails with no solution contemplated and no additional funding.
On Jan. 25, 2010, SBX3 18 takes effect. This measure increases sentencing credits for jail inmates, creates “summary parole” (unsupervised parole), and will require what would have previously been a parole violation, will now face new local prosecution and increased time in local county jails rather than returning to state prison. All without the benefit of the daily jail rate paid by the State of California to counties who house parole violators. Taken together, these changes and proposals will put further strain on county jails and on local public safety.
In February 2009, local public safety programs such as Rural Crimes, Hi-Tech Crimes, California Multi-Jurisdictional Methamphetamine Task Force and the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force were funded by a modest increase in the Vehicle License Fee (VLF). VLF was projected to replace General Fund support for officers on the street; jails; district attorneys for prosecutions; juvenile justice programs; booking fees and methamphetamine interdiction programs. Since February, revenues have been well under projections. Even after years of cuts to these programs, VLF to local public safety is down as much as 27 percent per quarter from what was projected. What’s worse, the VLF authorization for local public safety is set to expire in June 2011. Coupled with our own worsening revenue projections, these very valuable public safety programs may have to be suspended.
Here in Stanislaus County, we are under federal consent decree capping our daily inmate population at 1,492. Based upon our failing infrastructure, jail overcrowding and the need for us to adequately and safely house our local inmate population, thereby keeping our communities safe, leaves no room for the State of California to dump the responsibility and cost of housing state prison inmates in local jails.
Chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys and probation departments are being asked to implement sweeping new policy changes against the backdrop of declining and expiring revenue sources like VLF. Dumping state prison inmates into this mix exacerbates an already unstable situation for local public safety agencies and creates increased concern about public safety in our communities.
The California State Sheriffs’ Association has historically worked in a cooperative and collegial manner with the governor and legislature and we expect to continue that stance this year. However, we are increasingly concerned about proposals related to parole, county jails and increased local responsibility at a time when we are struggling to fund and manage our own current responsibilities and inmate populations. We urge very careful scrutiny of these proposals by the community. Balancing fiscal crisis against public safety is very dangerous. We ask that you contact your legislative representatives and urge them to reduce wasteful spending at the state level, rather than relying on local government to solve their fiscal crisis.

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