Jail population plummets, sheriff budget increases
January 28, 2015
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Jail inmate numbers in San Luis Obispo County have dropped by more than 25 percent since last year following initial implementation of Prop. 47, but San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson’s spending continues to climb.
Proposition 47 reduces the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor. People charged with misdemeanors are usually released after a few hours in custody in contrast to those charged with felonies who often spend months in jail awaiting trial.
Estimates by officials suggest savings to the state of $150 million to $250 million annually. And counties could enjoy “net criminal justice system savings that could reach several hundred million dollars annually,” according to the California Legislative Analyst and its Director of Finance.
Money saved by the state is mandated by Prop. 47 to be spent on school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment and victim services. Money saved at county levels is not earmarked.
In 2011, realignment lowered the number of inmate admissions at state prisons by approximately 40 percent, while increasing average daily county jail populations by about 30 percent. California’s prison realignment shifted the responsibility of custody, treatment, and supervision of individuals convicted of specified non-serious crimes from the state to counties.
Parkinson, since he was sworn in as sheriff in 2010, has fattened his budget from a years-long average of $56 million, according to county records, to the $64 million granted by supervisors in June. One of Parkinson’s primary assertions for the budget increase was a larger jail population.
His budget escalation has occurred despite the fact that supervisors have removed animal services from under the wing of the sheriff’s department, placing it under the health agency. The sheriff’s department was thus able to shed a program costing about $2.5 million annually, but there was little impact on sheriff’s department costs.
In 2012, sheriff’s department expenses increased to $58,152,370, a cost attributed to the state’s prison realignment. In 2013, the department spent $60,969,265, an amount increasing to $63,156,696 in 2014.
Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said that Prop. 47 could either increase or decrease inmate population numbers, that “some historical data” is needed.
“It is simply too soon to know the full effects of Prop. 47, and the Sheriff’s Office won’t know these effects until we have some historical data on which to base our decisions, budgetary and otherwise,” Cipolla said. “As an example, we were just beginning to realize some of the impacts we experienced from the implementation of [the realignment law] which was signed into law in 2011.”
In 2010, prior to realignment, there was an average of 477 inmates housed in the San Luis Obispo County Jail. By 2011, the average number of inmates had increased to 542, leveling off by 2014 to an average daily inmate population of 667, according to the California Board of State and Community Corrections.
During the third quarter of 2014, there was an average of 714 inmates housed in the San Luis Obispo County Jail, according to Cipolla. By the fourth quarter, the average daily population was 616, a decline that continues.
On Jan. 13, there were 513 inmates in county custody.
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