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California's Prisoner Problem

The state's prison overpopulation fix sounds good in theory, but so far the plan isn't working out everywhere the same way.

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California's Prisoner Problem

AP

Mara Salvatrucha gang member flash signs from behind bars at a prison in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in this 2006, production photo from the movie "Hijos de la Guerra." The brutal gang intrigued filmmaker Alexandre Fuchs so much, he decided the first feature film he'd direct would look at the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. (AP Photo/Fly Films/Jeremy Fourteau)

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Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's idea of sending state prisoners to county jails may be helpful to the goal of meeting a federal court order to pare 30,000 inmates from the state prison population.

But it's causing major headaches for some local governments.

At the end of the process, public reaction to the new arrangement may be much more negative than resistance to tax increases or other means of keeping criminals in their original residences of incarceration.

Brown is trying to do more with less, usually a difficult proposition in any situation with inadequate resources.

Caught between two bad choices--release prisoners outright or find the funds to build more expensive prisons--he has opted for a third choice: shift state prisoners to the counties with payment for their housing services.

Some counties, San Mateo and Santa Clara, for example, have had little difficulty in absorbing the new prison population; that's because they have vacancies in their jails.

Other counties, such as Los Angeles and Orange, have little room to accommodate their allocations of new prisoners. Both anticipate reaching capacity within a few months.

Then what?

Absent some kind of radical change, local governments are going to find themselves in the same fix as the state before the prisoners were shifted.

Instead of the state releasing prisoners, county sheriffs will undertake the undesirable task. That may leave Brown sleeping a bit better at night, but it's certainly likely to keep local authorities awake and the public angry.

Of course, the public bears most of the responsibility for passing ballot propositions designed to keep criminals in prison for longer periods of time and refusing to accept new taxes to pay for the facilities.

Over time that deadly combination has created the mess we're in today.

The more that local jurisdictions release prisoners because of overcrowding at their facilities, the more the public will react in fear of released criminals living nearby.

Which level of government will be assigned blame for the mess? 

More on Realignment:

District Atty: Realignment "Overly Optimistic"

New Law Pumps Up LA County Jail Population

The Ugly Truth About Prisoner Realignment

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