Governor Brown Signs Legislation Shifting Inmates to Counties But Fails to Fund It

prison-reformEarlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will send thousands of state prisoners to local jails.  The idea behind the plan was to reform the criminal justice system and save money.

Many have calculated that the state could save huge amounts of money through such a shift, as counties are better equipped to handle inmates for a much lower cost.

There are, however, a couple of problems.  First, the state needed to shift money to the counties to support this.  The state would still save money because of the greater efficiency at the county level.  However, originally the governor had planned to fund the initiative with money from tax increases and tax extensions.

The problem now is that the Republicans opposed these tax increases and the governor gave up last week on having a June tax measure.

Reports San Francisco Chronicle Capitol Insider Marisa Lagos, “Brown had to do something — if he didn’t sign of [sic] veto AB109 by Monday, it would have gone into law automatically. So he attempted to soften the blow by writing in his signing message that AB109 will not take effect until the state has figured out way [sic] to pay counties for the extra responsibilities.”

Nevertheless, she reports, the Republicans and county sheriffs are still “steaming mad.”

She writes, “Sheriffs had thrown their tentative support behind the plan, with some caveats — including that there was a good way to pay for it. Now, they are worried that without a long term, dedicated funding stream, counties will ultimately end up with the new responsibilities and no way to pay for them. And that could lead to already-overcrowded jails releasing criminals, said Nick Warner, a lobbyist for the California State Sheriffs Association.”

“Without clear constitutional protections and inadequate funding, this is a public safety nightmare,” he said.

Ms. Lagos writes, “Translation: Even if Brown and his allies in the Legislature figure out a way to pay for the change — known as realignment — over the next few years, sheriffs won’t sleep soundly without a constitutional amendment that would enshrine such funding into state law for years to come. Law enforcement officials have been worried about this potential unreliability all along.”

Governor Brown attempted to allay these conccerns in his signing message.

He stated, “By its terms, Assembly Bill 109 will not go into effect until the creation of a community corrections grant program and an appropriation of funding.”

“I will not sign any legislation that would seek to implement this measure without the necessary funding,” he continued. “In this regard, I intend to work closely with, and consult, police chiefs, sheriffs, chief probation officers, district attorneys and representatives of the counties and courts to ensure that any funding bill which makes Assembly Bill 109 operative is sufficient to protect public safety.”

He continued, “Regrettably, the measure that would provide stable and constitutionally protected funding for public safety has not yet passed the Legislature. In the coming weeks, and for as long as it takes, I will vigorously pursue my plan to balance the State’s budget and prevent reductions to public safety through a constitutional guarantee. I will also continue to partner with counties and law enforcement on this important effort.”

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, who by the way refused to take part in the budget negotiations, said in a statement, “This flawed measure amounts to a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for thousands of felons who should be in state prison.”

She continued. “The governor has signed this bill in the name of cost-savings, but it could end up costing lives by letting dangerous criminals out onto our streets without proper supervision. This law will only shift the state’s responsibilities onto the backs of local government without resources to keep our communities safe. I urge my fellow lawmakers to work with Assembly Republicans on follow up legislation that will not endanger our neighborhoods.”

One of the big questions, of course, is whether these people belong in a state prisons.  Alot of them are non-violent drug offenders.  We watch every day in Yolo County as people are put into state prison for multiple years for nothing more than drug possession charges.

For example, yesterday an individual pled to 32 months in state prison.  The charge: possession of .085 grams of meth.  That earned this individual 16 of those month of’ incarceration.  The other sixteen were because they had a prior felony.  That felony, you guessed it, possession of a small quantity of meth on a previous occasion.

We could save a lot of money if we got rid of prison sentences for these people and used the resources for good residential treatment facilities, training and education.

Instead, we are going to pay almost $150,000 for that individual to be locked up in a prison where the person will get minimal services to actually help the problem, but get excellent training of another kind – how to commit worse crimes.

Under this bill, the individual would remain at the county level or have the charge reduced to probation for the term of the sentence.

The problem is that the Governor failed to fund it.

The ACLU-NC, Drug Policy Alliance and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights criticized the plan for shifting the state’s correctional overcrowding and overspending problems to counties, for failing to fund demonstrated crime prevention services, including drug treatment and mental health care, and for failing to include much-needed sentencing reforms.

Although signed into law, the policy change is contingent on the securing of new funding for county law enforcement.

“This plan is a shell game that would simply shift corrections costs from the state to the counties without addressing the real problem: California is locking up too many people for low-level offenses for too long,” said Allen Hopper, police practices director with the ACLU of Northern California.

“The massive cost of incarceration is robbing the people of California of vitally needed services, including education and healthcare. What we need is real sentencing reform, such as shortening the sentences for simple possession drug crimes. It’s time for California to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating people who pose no threat to public safety.”

“This plan would allow people to be locked up in local jails for up to three years, triple the current limit. Research consistently shows that longer sentences do not produce better outcomes. In fact, shorter sentences coupled with re-entry and prevention tactics are both more effective and more cost-effective,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“We’re talking about people convicted of low-level offenses, like drug possession, prostitution and petty theft, often related to a drug problem. But the plan doesn’t include a dime for drug treatment or mental health care. In fact, the governor has proposed reducing funds for those services.”

“Any California corrections reform must include sentencing reform,” said Kris Lev-Twombly, director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “A felony conviction is a life-long sentence that should not be applied to low-level offenses. No matter how old the conviction, people with a felony on their record will face significantly diminished employment opportunities and much lower lifetime earnings. They may also be prohibited from accessing student loans, food stamps and other public assistance. This works against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “He stated, “By its terms, Assembly Bill 109 will not go into effect until the creation of a community corrections grant program and an appropriation of funding.””

    Then why sign it, unless and until the funding is there to implement it? This is nothing more than Brown sloughing off state responsibilities onto the counties, w/o the necessary funding to go along with it. And I very much doubt that the necessary funding will ever be forthcoming, but I would be willing to bet the counties will be expected to carry out their duties to take over state responsibilities anyway w/o the necessary funding – which is why law enforcement is steaming mad – THEY KNOW WHAT IS REALLY COMING, DESPITE BROWN’S DISINGENUOUR WORDS TO THE CONTRARY…

  2. GregoryS

    The voters were convinced these inmates belong in prison, so they passed laws to incarcerate them. What the politicians didn’t tell them was that incarcerating them cost [b]cash advance ([url][/url])[/b] that the taxpayers would have to cough up. Now the question seems to be, how much are we willing to pay in increased taxes to keep them incarcerated? We can’t have it both ways. The War on Drugs isn’t working any better than abolition did, so it seems to me the solution would be to make drugs legal so those who want them can get them at the local drug store. 100 years ago drugs were legal and America didn’t have a drug problem.

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