Prison reform to impact Lassen County
Ketelsen said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed keeping convicts sentenced to three years or less in the county jail. Jails currently house those sentenced to a year or less.
“The state is trying to use the county in partnership capacity to solve the overcrowding issue,” he said at the board’s Feb. 20 meeting.
Prisons will be at maximum capacity by June and a state superior court judge recently ruled Schwarzenegger cannot ship inmates out of state under the emergency declaration the governor issued last fall. Only local jurisdictions can declare emergencies under the Emergency Services Act, according to Judge Gail Ohanesian.
Schwarzenegger vowed to appeal the ruling with the Third District Court of Appeal. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association and another union sued to prevent the transfers of inmates to other states.
“The issue is bigger than this county, except that our problems are unique in that we have two prisons here, and they’re such a large part of our economy,” Ketelsen said.
He added, there are five federal lawsuits pending because of overcrowding and one receiver assigned by the courts to settle a lawsuit “has threatened that he has a key to state treasury, and if they don’t do something soon he’ll go to back up the truck and take all the money.”
Ketelsen said the governor is trying to react to all the pressures and James Tilton is a very good chief for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“This man is very bright and very articulate and willing to listen. But it’s no longer just a matter of talking about mitigating the costs of having a prison here. It’s new programs that we’re going to have to shoulder.”
Prison trial reimbursement
For the first time in her memory, County Auditor Karen Fouch said the state is paid up in reimbursements to the county for the costs of trials associated with the two Susanville prisons.
She said the county received a check on March 5 for prison trials costs through Dec. 30. The state was six months behind on its payments until board members mentioned the problem to State Senator Dave Cox. The state quickly paid its outstanding bill.
“That’s because they have a bigger issue now,” said Board Chairman Brian Dahle and the other board members agreed, with laughter.
“That’s the good news,” Fouch said. “The bad news is that, in all likelihood, the appropriation for this year is now depleted. So, they’ll have to go back and ask for an emergency appropriation.”
Later, she added, “They’ll be behind shortly.”
Cox offered to intervene any time the state is behind in prison trials reimbursement payments.
Ketelsen suggested the state make the expansion more agreeable by allowing the prisons once again to make inmate crews available for outside work, such as picking up trash in parks and shoveling snow outside public buildings.
Susanville Mayor Lino Callegari is heavily involved in the Association of California Cities Allied with Prisons. District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson said he recently talked to Callegari about inmate crews becoming available “and evidently that may occur relatively soon,” Hanson said.
Since the prison reform program isn’t yet written out in a bill for the legislature, “we don’t know the form it’s going to take,” Ketelsen said, adding county staff will try to develop data on the costs of jailing those sentenced to three years or less in prison.
A court-imposed cap on the state prison system will soon prevent any new inmates from being transferred from county jails. Until the state comes up with some way to solve the overcrowding problem, inmates could wait indefinitely in county jail cells until a prison bed is available, according to Supervisor Jim Chapman.
“It’s likely that we could see the rest of our jail filled up by inmates being held pending an opening in a United States institution,” Chapman said.
Schwarzenegger, on Thursday, March 8, toured the overcrowded conditions at the San Joaquin County Jail, according to a press release from his office.
“The governor explained how his prison reform package would positively impact the problem at local county jails,” it said. “The governor’s comprehensive reform plan includes $5.5 billion (including $1.1 billion in local matching funds) to build 45,000 county jail beds and 5,000 juvenile beds throughout California.
“I wanted to come to the San Joaquin County Jail today to discuss the dangerous domino effect that would occur if we fail to take action to resolve our prison overcrowding crisis,” Schwarzenegger said. “With severe overcrowding in our state prison system, counties face having to release prisoners early, putting more dangerous criminals out on the street.”
Currently the state prison system holds 171,600 inmates, though it was designed to handle 100,000.
Schwarzenegger’s prison expansion plan includes $10.9 billion to add 16,000 prison beds, build 45,000 local jail beds, and set aside $1 billion for 10,000 medical and mental health beds pursuant to the court receiver's plans.
The press release said the proposal also includes a comprehensive reform plan to enact Jessica's Law, California's new landmark initiative to protect children against sex offenders, “creates a sentencing commission and realigns resources to ensure the worst criminals are not a threat to public safety.”
The plan will also provide 5,000 to 7,000 beds in new secure reentry facilities to be constructed within counties to provide inmates with a transition period prior to their release. At the reentry centers, soon-to-be released inmates will get help with job placement, alcohol and drug counseling and other services “to help them live successfully outside of prison, which will help reduce California’s 70 percent recidivism rate."
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