Governor’s proposal shifts cost and care of prison overcrowding to local jail.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes to save more than a quarter-billion dollars this year and next by transferring some state prison inmates to county jails. But the savings would come at the expense of counties like Monterey, whose jail is already bursting at the seams.
“Our jail is dangerously overcrowded,” says attorney Traci Kirkbride of the Monterey County Counsel’s office.
The jail safely holds 821 inmates, according to state regulators, but the population has hit a high of 1,200, sending an overflow of inmates to bunk in dayrooms and other common areas. The current census hovers around 1,000.
On a recent Friday, Capt. Pat Hunton, the jail’s second-in-command, leads a couple of reporters down a narrow corridor to a two-story metal cage the size of a large living room. Thirty-seven men wearing identical orange-striped pants and green smocks lie on triple bunks or on thin mattresses they’ve dragged to the floor. A few sit on steps staring at a single blaring TV screen. Others gaze out a window onto a dim hallway. The men leave their enclosure for just three hours a week of recreation on the concrete yard. It is the only time they see daylight.
Hunton sighs heavily as she considers the governor’s plan. “I hope he doesn’t do it,” she says. If the Legislature approves, more than 15,000 non-violent felons statewide would serve a year in county jails instead of doing state prison time in the next two years. It is unclear how many would go to the Monterey County jail.
But it’s undisputed that tension and violence go hand in hand with overcrowding.
“This is a time bomb waiting to happen,” says Mike Moore, a San Francisco attorney who last August won a $1.8 million settlement on behalf of a county jail inmate who was beaten so badly by his cellmate that he was permanently brain damaged.
In 2007, Sheriff Mike Kanalakis testified in Moore’s case that the jail has been dangerously overpopulated, understaffed and antiquated since his election.
Little has changed, says Monterey County Deputy Sheriff’s Association President Daniel Mitchell, who notes that severe understaffing makes the jail hazardous duty.
“We’ve had some serious assaults where deputies were slashed with razors,” Mitchell says. “That’s one of the reasons we moved to electric razors three years ago.” Still, other types of attacks have continued. “They happen on a regular basis.”
Mitchell says deputy positions have been so hard to fill that some have simply been eliminated.
A 2007 consultant’s report commissioned by the Sheriff’s Office to assess jail needs concluded, “The feeling of draconian confinement and disorientation created by a maze-like layout are more than most potential applicants are willing to bear.”
The report urged the construction of a larger, better-equipped jail, but money for such a project has not been forthcoming.
Instead, if the governor’s proposal is approved, Monterey County would release lower-level offenders and urge judges to free more defendants awaiting trial, says County Chief Administrative Officer Lew Bauman.
An Assembly budget committee was set to consider the governor’s proposal on Wednesday, Feb. 10.