Friday, 06 May 2011 00:04

Prison bill could cause problems for county jails

Written by
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Tuesday, Apr 5 2011, 4:52 pm
By Susan Meeker/Tri-County Newspapers

Texas Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday that will eventually shift the responsibility of some state prisoners to the counties.

Assembly Bill 109 was written to help cut the state's $27 billion deficit, reduce prison overcrowding and keep low-level offenders closer to home and rehabilitation services.

But county officials say it could become a law enforcement disaster for rural counties strapped for money.

Brown had hoped to fund the measure with tax extensions, but was unable to get it before the voters on the June ballot.

Colusa County Sheriff Scott Marshall isn't entirely against the plan, but said Tuesday the county can't afford to house prisoners serving 16 months to three-year sentences.

"If the state wants us to do the state's job, then the funding is going to have to come with it," Marshall said.

Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones also called the legislation "a total nightmare," blasting the move he said puts too much financial weight on the backs of small counties.

"It transfers jurisdiction of many serious offenders from prison to jail, will force the early release of felons and there are zero constitutional protections for funding," Jones said.

Colusa County Supervisor Kim Dolbow Vann said signing the bill without a long-term, dedicated funding stream will leave counties virtually unable to comply.

"It's putting the cart before the horse," Vann said. "There is no funding at this point."

Although Brown promised not to sign any legislation that would seek to implement this bill without the necessary funding, he's hoping for a community corrections grant program to be created by statute so that funding can be appropriated.

Vann called it a ploy to get Republican legislators to back a constitutional amendment and support the realignment plan.

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said he was against the public safety realignment from day one, and called it a "public safety disaster."

Nielsen estimates by 2015 there will be up to 68,000 criminal offenders or parolees let free in local communities as a result of the new law, and that they would be largely unsupervised.

Colusa County Probation chief Steve Bordin said the shift would have a huge impact on the community if his small department can't properly supervise the increased number of persons on parole.

"Without the proper funding, we won't be able to put programs in place," Bordin said.

Bordin expects an increase of about 60 low-level offenders on parole each year who would normally be imprisoned on various non-violent, non-drug and non-sex-related felonies.

Many may require house detention with the use of ankle-devise monitoring.

But Brown said AB 109 will help stop what he calls a costly, ineffective and unsafe "revolving door" of lower-level offenders and parole violators through state prisons.

"For too long, the state's prison system has been a revolving door for lower-level offenders and parole violators who are released within months, often before they are even transferred out of a reception center," Brown said in a statement Tuesday. "Cycling these offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation and impedes local law enforcement supervision."

In addition to AB 109, Brown also signed AB 111, which gives counties additional flexibility to access funding to increase local jail capacity for the purpose of implementing AB 109.

Marshall said he does not see an immediate need to increase capacity, even if AB 109 is fully funded.

"I have the space now," he said. "But it is something we will have to address in the future."

AB 109 affects only offenders convicted after July 1, with current inmates remaining under the state's supervision.

Read 1093 times Last modified on Thursday, 08 December 2011 17:22
Login to post comments