Plans to divert state prisoners to county jails
January 5, 2011
Newly inaugurated Gov. Jerry Brown will propose shifting low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails as one of many budget cuts to shrink California’s $28 billion deficit. [CaliforniaWatch]
But this solution also poses a number of problems. First among them: Where are the counties supposed to house these inmates?
The state’s prisons are massively overcrowded, and the U.S. Supreme Court is to rule in the coming months on whether to force the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to decrease its inmate population.
An order from a lower federal court requires the state to move roughly 27,000 prisoners out of the state facilities to ease the space crunch and improve medical services.
Should the top court uphold that order, California has few options on where to send its overflow inmates.
The corrections department might direct some to private prison facilities. It could provide early release to inmates, though this option is likely too politically difficult. Or it can ship prisoners to county jails.
Brown hasn’t yet announced any of the specifics behind his county jail proposal.
How many prisoners would the state transfer to local facilities? How much money would be saved? Which “low-level offenders” would be moving? And to which county jails?
California’s local jails are crowded as well, and have been reducing their loads.
As of a year ago (the most recent data available), county jails housed 73,900 inmates, down 9 percent from the first quarter of 2009. About 30 percent of the county jail inmates have been sentenced (as opposed to those awaiting trial or sentencing).
Should Brown opt to send some 20,000 prisoners to county jails, that would about double their “sentenced” populations, possibly overwhelming the facilities.
In 2007, state lawmakers passed AB 900 to address the shortage of inmate housing. Out of $7.4 billion in bond sales approved for jail construction, $1.2 billion of that was to fund expansion of county facilities, adding 13,000 beds.
However, the state and counties have not yet completed a single AB 900 project, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday.
Jail construction has been stalled by lawsuits over environmental concerns and by the financial downturn.
“Maybe it’s been a little slower than I’d thought, but given what it takes to build a new large, public works project in California, it doesn’t surprise me where we’re at,” state Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim, told the Chronicle.