Calif. Gov. calls for shifts of state prisoners to county jails

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan is aimed at saving the state money, reducing overcrowded prisons and attempting to better handle juveniles and low-level offenders

By Karen de Sá
San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday called for a major shift of state prisoners to the county jail system, a plan aimed at saving the state money, reducing overcrowded prisons and attempting to better handle juveniles and low-level offenders who cycle through the justice system at great cost to the public.

Brown's plan would eliminate altogether the state's juvenile prison system, sending offenders to their home counties and reducing costs that have reached more than $200,000 annually per youth inmate.

Brown's budget outlines his plans for the state to house only the most serious and violent adult felony offenders, while shifting low-level adult offenders, all youth offenders and parolees to county systems "where they are known to local law enforcement and where community support systems exist."

Local governments, the budget states, are better positioned to end "the revolving door of the corrections systems" by determining what types of monitoring, treatment and training inmates need.

The shift with adult offenders would contribute to a decrease in the state's 2011-12 fiscal budget by $485.8 million. Eliminating the Division of Juvenile Justice would result in a 2011-12 savings of $78 million — and $250 million annually after the program is completely ended by June 2014.

"Today, almost 50,000 people are sent to prison and spend less than 90 days," Brown, formerly the state's attorney general, said in his Monday press conference. "I feel this should be handled locally."

He also vowed to give counties the funds they need to handle the influx, allowing them to "make the decision on how to manage it."

Money accompanying state prisoners who return to their home counties is the main concern among law enforcement officers statewide, who have been meeting with the governor for weeks to discuss the topic.

While sheriffs like Santa Clara County's Laurie Smith are not opposed to the idea of taking on state inmates, they insist they cannot do so without adequate funding — even in counties like Smith's, where there is bed space available.

In counties at capacity, some lower-level jail inmates may have to be released to make room, said Nick Warner, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs' Association.

"The fiscal condition of the state has deteriorated to the point where we have to look at some other options, and we're willing to do so," Warner said. "The question is, can you match up the money with the program, and can you create jail beds to match the growth?"

Warner added: "Given the resources, there's a workable solution."

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