Newly elected Governor Jerry Brown has voiced plans to reduce state corrections spending, something that must be done to accommodate the huge costs of running the California prison system on such a strapped state budget. He intends to send state inmates to serve their sentences at county jails. And while many people are applauding the idea, there are several issues with it—namely that the counties are similarly stretched thin.
The Sacramento Bee states that tens of thousands of county inmates are released every year to keep local jails operating at appropriate capacity levels. Many are under mandates to begin releasing inmates once their facility reaches 95%, a level that several hover right around every single day.
So while the Governor’s plan may bring savings to the state, it will likely only pass the problems down to the local and county levels.
Sheriff’s are worried that they won’t be able to provide for the state inmates coming their way unless they clear out more of their existing jail inmates. They are likewise concerned that the state will be unable to fund the moves and housing costs given their obvious lack of money. The Governor’s proposal would funnel $1.5 Billion into local jails but local officials aren’t convinced that will be enough.
The proposal would send nonviolent state level inmates to county jails. It would also put county jails in care of parole violators whose original conviction was for a violent offense. But for those jails that are operating at capacity, they would have to make room for the state inmates, releasing instead those awaiting trial in county courts or sentenced to less than a year at the county level.
Legislative Director of the California State Sheriff’s Association Nick Warner states the plan creates “a major public safety risk”. And this seems to be a top concern even among those who agree that the counties are better equipped to handle the inmates than the state.
In an effort to reduce incarceration at the county level we could see local courts granting bail in more cases and being more apt to suspend sentences in cases that would’ve otherwise garnered jail time. But in an environment where we send far too many people to prison in the first place, one has to wonder if this would be a bad thing at all and furthermore, one has to ask why lawmakers aren’t addressing the cause of the high costs of incarceration rather than simply addressing the effects.
Funneling inmates to counties doesn’t reduce costs altogether—it simply transfers cost. Real savings will only happen if lawmakers come together to lessen penalties on the front end rather than having to scramble to save on the back end.