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Riverside, L.A. Counties Say Jail Funding 'Woefully Inadequate'

Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning/File photo
Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning/File photo

Riverside County supervisors voted today to support a Los Angeles County resolution calling on the Legislature and governor to make more public safety funding available to counties burdened with incarcerating and caring for inmates who until two years ago would have been the state's responsibility.

Riverside County Executive Officer Jay Orr asked the Board of Supervisors to endorse the L.A. County board motion advocating larger allocations from programs established under Assembly Bill 109.

AB 109, also known as the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, was enacted as part of a broader strategy to reduce the state's inmate population in the face of a federal court decree mandating that the number of inmates in California prisons be capped at 137 percent of capacity for health and safety reasons.

Under AB 109, so-called "non-serious, non-violent" offenders convicted of felonies that do not stem from a sexual offense are to serve their sentences in local detention facilities.

Proponents of realignment suggested that jail sentences would be capped at three years, but that has not held true; one inmate in Riverside County is serving a 12-year sentence, while another in Los Angeles County is serving 43 years at a local detention facility.

AB 109 also made counties responsible for prosecuting and incarcerating probation and parole violators whose offenses do not fall into the "serious or violent" category. According to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, nearly one-fifth of all jail detainees last year were AB 109 cases.

A 20-year-old federal court order mandates that the county have a jail bed for every detainee or selectively release inmates to make room for incoming ones. According to the CEO's office, in 2013 the sheriff released 9,286 inmates because of space limitations. That compares to what Sheriff Stan Sniff described as an unprecedented number in 2012 -- 6,990.

"Although Riverside County has the greatest number of early releases in the state, no county has sufficient state funding to fully implement all of the programs necessary to reduce recidivism and move offenders toward self- sufficiency," Orr wrote.

The county currently spends 20 percent of general fund dollars on corrections. That number is projected to more than double in a decade if the county appropriates the revenue required for jail infrastructure.

There are five detention facilities in the county able to hold just under 4,000 inmates -- less than in any neighboring county. The county is expanding the Indio jail and planning further expansion of the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.

John Moffatt with Nielsen Merksamer, one of the Sacramento-based lobbying firms retained by the county, told the board today that $81 million could be available to counties to offset jail overcrowding in the current fiscal year, and another $500 million has been proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown for the same purpose. But it's too early in the state budgeting process to know for sure how much -- if any -- funding will come available, Moffatt said.

Orr noted that AB 109 problems aren't centered entirely on space shortages, pointing out that the county's resources are also being drained providing mental health services, substance abuse treatment, temporary housing, clothing, transportation and other assistance to "realigned offenders."

The Department of Probation's "realignment caseload" stands at 2,868, according to Orr.

"More than half of those probationers are at high-risk for re-offending," he said.

According to Moffatt, Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has proposed legislation that would offer some financial relief to counties with high numbers of detainees with mental illness.

Board Chairman Jeff Stone met today with Brown, who is up for re-election and undertaking a statewide tour. Stone said he hoped to impress upon the governor the enormous pressures felt at the local level because of public safety realignment and the need for more state funding.

Both Orr and L.A. County CEO William Fujioka stressed the need for increased funding to support rehab programs, family counseling, job training, electronic monitoring in lieu of jail and similar initiatives aimed at keeping people out of detention facilities.

In a letter to Orr, Fujioka said that several counties now find themselves targets of the same type of healthcare-related litigation that spurred the state to shift public safety responsibilities to localities.

"It is clear that in order to avoid the costly litigation that has plagued the state for many years, counties must address the operational, physical and clinical infrastructure issues presented by AB 109," Fujioka said.

He characterized current AB 109 funding levels as "woefully inadequate." --City News Service


Alek J Hidell January 14, 2014 at 11:58 PM
Nonsense. Just use "hot bunking" This entails a cot being used by 3 different inmates, in shifts: One gets to sleep while the other is running on a treadmill generating electricity, etc. Then they switch places....
ChrisG January 15, 2014 at 12:14 AM
Alek, I didn't realize you were a green energy guy. Great idea!

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