Local News

Monday, Dec 03 2012 12:15 PM

Fresno County demands more state funds for housing prisoners

BY KURTIS ALEXANDER The Fresno Bee

Fresno County is planning to lodge a complaint with the governor over the prison overhaul that has packed thousands of state prisoners into local jails.

The county will join two other counties in the San Joaquin Valley -- with possibly more to follow -- to protest a lack of funding for the additional responsibility.

Valley officials say their jails have gotten too crowded, criminals are walking free and police and probation officers are overworked because of the year-old prison realignment.

They also say the state funding that has been provided for the prison realignment is skewed in favor of other parts of California, namely the Bay Area.

"The funding formula, the way it's set up now, creates winners and losers," Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner said. "The Central Valley is at a big disadvantage. We can't let this continue."

According to a county report released last week, Fresno County is getting $12,176 for every offender projected to be shifted from state to county supervision under the prison realignment. Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, by comparison, is getting $40,346 per offender.

On Tuesday, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is expected to pass a resolution demanding more realignment funding and more equitable distribution of funds. The resolution will be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers from the Valley.

While the move is symbolic, the hope is that mounting pressure on Sacramento will prompt changes.

"When the Bay Area counties were unhappy with the formula, they exerted pressure and that's how we got to where we are today," Penner said. "We cannot sit silent."

Supervisors in Kern and Stanislaus counties passed resolutions last month protesting the funding formula. Some in Kings County want to do the same.

State Sens. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, plan to co-author legislation to change how the money is split up.

"We do not allocate education dollars based on population. We allocate it based on the number of students. It should be the same" here, said Rubio. "My intention is to bring immediate relief to counties like Fresno, Kern, Tulare and Kings, where they are not receiving their fair share of realignment dollars."

The realignment was launched by Brown on Oct. 1, 2011, to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. It shifts low-level felons once held in prisons to county jails and probation programs. No prisoners are directly transferred, but as new felons are sentenced to time behind bars and state prisoners are released, they become the responsibility of counties.

So far, the realignment has meant more than 2,000 additional felons for Fresno County. The numbers have exceeded state projections.

The nearly $850 million in the state budget earmarked for realignment this fiscal year, including $20.8 million for Fresno County, is more than what was doled out the first year. But Valley counties from Kern to San Joaquin got smaller slices.

Seven of nine Bay Area counties, by contrast, got bigger slices.

According to Fresno County's recent report, Valley counties now receive an average $11,767 per offender. The Bay Area averages $25,811 per offender. The state average is $14,352 per offender.

Supporters of the formula say there is a reason some counties, such as those in the Bay Area, get more: They're already spending more money to manage criminals.

These are counties that have historically sent fewer people to state prison and instead invested heavily in managing offenders locally, often through treatment programs such as drug rehab and mental health counseling.

While those Bay Area counties will see fewer felons returned with the realignment, county officials there say they need state money to continue and expand what they're doing. They say they shouldn't be penalized with less realignment funds because they have for years run and financed local programs.

Brown administration officials have distanced themselves from the funding debate.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said the governor deliberately handed off allocation decisions to counties -- specifically to their lobbying group, the California State Association of Counties -- so that they could sort it out.

CSAC's new Executive Director, Matt Cate, said he is aware of the Valley's concerns. Cate, who previously was secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said he will see if he can address those concerns in future state budgets. He also said there may be extra money at the end of this fiscal year to dole out to Valley counties.

The current funding formula stands for two years.

The formula was created by a nine-person committee (divided three ways among urban, suburban and rural counties) commissioned by CSAC under the wing of the County Administrative Officers Association of California. Kings County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes was the only representative from the Valley on the committee.

This year's formula weighs a number of factors, including the population of each county. Last year's formula, which many Bay Area officials didn't like, hinged largely on how many offenders were expected to be shifted from state to county hands.

Bay Area officials wanted changes so that more money would be given to counties that already were investing in programs other than incarceration.

Brown and other supporters of the prison realignment have urged counties to develop these alternative programs, both to avoid the higher cost of jailing people and to break the incessant cycle of crime.

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