Due to the State budget crises, California plans to start moving low-level, nonviolent offenders from over-crowded prisons to the over-crowded jails run by the State’s 58 Counties. Recently, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca submitted a plan to begin the prisoner transition from State Prison to LA County Jail.
Clearly this is a plan that is destined for failure. LA County’s jail system is already amongst the largest municipal jail system in the world. It is already overcrowded, understaffed and the conditioners there are, in a word, disgusting. How then does Sheriff Baca expect to accommodate more inmates from the State? The answer must be money. The County will receive financial incentives from the State to house the State prisoners in the County jail. The money that the cash-strapped State gives the County is likely more on a per inmate basis than the County would normally be allocated per inmate.
For example, each State prisoner who is released from prison is given $200 to purchase a bus ticket back to their county of residence. If such an inmate were already in their home county, would the Sheriff just keep that money and be able to use it for other things?
Next, how is a County probation Department going to effectively supervise State parolees? In Los Angeles County, the Probation Department is already unable and unwilling to supervise any misdemeanor probationers. In order to get the Probation Department to write a sentencing report the Department requires four weeks. In Ventura County The Probation Department has already stopped doing follow-up reports in the case of deferred entry of judgment, or drug diversion as it is known. Defendants are required to bring their own proof of successful completion of a drug program with them to court upon their return to court two years after the deferral is granting.
For me, the answer is simple: we will have to stop locking people up for low level offenses such as driving on a suspended license or prostitution and other minor offenses. We will have to have inmates carry the costs of their own incarceration by having them pay for the privilege of staying in a city run jail or paying to do work service in lieu of jail time. We can have inmates pay to utilize electronic confinement devices or GPS systems or they can pay to stay in residential rehabilitation facilities when appropriate instead of jail. I know the answers will not come easily or cheaply, but the answers must be found.
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