Budget Lock Up
New law may send thousands of state prisoners to Monterey County’s jail.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Colossal cuts to California’s corrections budget loomed large at a meeting this week in Marina on AB 109, which will shift hundreds of lower-level offenders from state jails to county facilities.
The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, was described Monday by Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo as a “profound change in the way we deal with crime in our communities.”
Marina Police Chief Edmundo Rodriguez told residents at the April 11 meeting that AB 109 could transfer up to 2,500 inmates from the state’s jurisdiction into Monterey County.
Also looming over state leaders: A federal Supreme Court case on whether to uphold a decision ordering the release of more than 40,000 state inmates, regardless of available funding.
The bill calls for guaranteed grant funding for counties to cover costs, but doesn’t specify when or from where said funding will trickle down.
This, coupled with a local prison that’s already decrepit and bursting at the seams, has Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller feeling pessimistic.
“Our jail is a crumbling facility by all accounts,” Miller says. It’s also overcrowded. The jail’s capacity is 829 beds, but it currently houses 1,065 inmates – 25 percent more people than it should. “Trying to stuff more inmates into our jail… is just not going to work.”
Lawmakers have been working with public safety leaders to redefine what crimes qualify as low-level offenses to cut costs and reduce the prison population.
Flippo says legislators considered a wide range of crimes for exclusion from the low-level offense list – including human trafficking. That was upheld as a jailable offense, but others were not, meaning that certain offenders will instead be served by counties through local probation and re-entry programs.
The future of those programs, however, is deeply intertwined with state budget cuts, not to mention those that counties and municipalities must make.
Manuel Real, the county’s chief probation officer, says he’s focused on “getting sustainable funding to operate outcomes-based programs” that prevent people from committing crimes – programs that the county, which has a recidivism rate of nearly 80 percent, desperately needs.
A state vehicle licensing fee that partially funded the county’s youth probation center will sunset this summer, further eroding agencies’ bottom lines. Police chiefs, DAs and probation officers are pushing to bring a ballot measure to voters on extending the fee, an effort Republicans are stonewalling.
Marina resident Rebecca McCallon expressed her concern about “who would be supervising mental health patients after their release” from state prison.
“This [legislation] was not planned with the thoughts of the safety of the citizenry in mind,” Flippo responded. “It was generated by budget concerns.”