Prison Transfers Start This Weekend — But Where's the Funding?

The first of thousands of state prison inmates eligible for transfers to local lockups will start moving to San Diego County jails this weekend.

Meantime, current state parolees will soon begin reporting to local probation officers.

The process raises both public safety and financial issues that the county supervisors hopes will be addressed by a "Public Safety Realignment & Post-Release Community Supervision" plan they approved unanimously, but unhappily, Tuesday morning.

They denounced "Sacramento" for "dumping" the state's legal and budgetary problems on California's 58 counties.

The locals will get some state money to throw at all that.

But not nearly what the prison and parole system spends on those felons.

Critics see great risk -- and questionable rewards.

The transfers have been mandated under Assembly Bill 109, passed in the last legislative session, because California's overcrowded prisons are under federal court orders to de-populate by about 20 percent by mid-2013.

"Cruel and unusual punishment," judges have ruled.

Now, relatively 'short-time' inmates whose crimes were 'non-violent', 'non-sexual' and 'non-serious' will begin serving their terms in local jails statewide.

For a while at least, San Diego County has room to spare.

Between 800 and a thousand beds are empty, depending on the day of the week, in a system whose capacity is 5,600.

Jail officials say processes already are in place under which the system would expand to 7,000 in a couple of years.

But 2,000 prison inmates are due to have moved in by then.

And in that time span, San Diego County's Probation Department will get 2,000 state parolees to supervise, along with 14,000 current probationers.

While probation officers will have authority to put violators in custody for up to 10 days -- without a court hearing -- under a "flash incarceration" policy with a probationer's prior consent, there's widespread concern about rising crime rates.

"I've been fighting gangs for years in North County, and a lot of people have gone to jail over this and are felons," says Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Horn. "I don't really want them back out on the street without serving their full terms."

County officials says it'll cost $100 million to beef up staffs and facilities to handle the prison-to-jail transfers for the next two and a half fiscal years.

The state is only reimbursing $65 million.

"They want to save money -- and we don't have a problem with that, because we can do it cheaper," says County Supervisor Ron Roberts. "But they want to save even more than we can save. And that's what gets galling."

Health & Human Services officials estimate that 20 percent of the prison inmates transferred will need mental health services -- 85 percent, drug and alcohol treatment.

The lowest-risk offenders will be eligible for releases under GPS monitoring and referrals to community-based housing, rehabilitation and workforce training organizations.

"I don't think there's another city or community or county in the state that's as ready as we are to deal with the issue," says Scott Silverman, president of Second Chance, a rehab program that’s helped nearly 2,000 ex-offenders find jobs since 1993.

“And we as an organization,” Silverman adds, “have a couple of extra beds, an extra classroom. Once we get some funding, we’ll be able to take another 50 to 60 people a month.”

Starting Saturday, eligible inmates from the state's R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa will be booked into county jails at the rate of 9 a day.

The governor and lawmakers have promised to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to guarantee permanent funding for all this.

Local officials can only hope it passes, and that the checks clear.

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