Pleasanton Weekly

News - October 7, 2011

Alameda County starts taking control of state prisoners

Most dangerous offenders will stay in California penitentiaries

by Jeb Bing

Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. has pledged maximum state support as Alameda County and other local officials begin California's historic realignment to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's prison-reduction order.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered California to reduce its prison population without delay and realignment is the most viable plan to comply with the court's order," Brown said. "It ensures that the most dangerous offenders serve their full sentences in state prison."

"I am pledging maximum state support to local officials: full funding, flexibility to use local solutions, and a future ballot measure guaranteeing continuous funding," he added. "We can't overturn the Supreme Court's decision, but we can work together to fix our broken system and protect public safety."

State and local officials have worked together for months preparing for the transfer to local government of funds and a range of responsibilities, including supervising parolees, managing lower-level offenders, and providing mental health, substance abuse, and child protective services.

"We're in a better position than many counties," said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, public information officer with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. "We're not going to release anyone early because of this. We expect all prisoners to serve their full term as sentenced by a judge."

Santa Rita Jail, which currently houses 3,300 inmates, can hold another 700; the North County Jail in Oakland has a capacity of 840 and currently houses about 600. While Nelson said he does not expect any additional inmates to be transferred to Santa Rita, retaining prisoners that would have been transferred to state penitentiaries could cost the county.

"That's the big question, how much they're going to pay us. We currently charge the state and federal government a daily rate of $77.17 for prisoners," Nelson said. "It's undetermined at this time if we'll continue to receive the daily rate or if that will change."

He said there is talk of paying counties a flat rate for their inmate populations but no decisions or timelines have been set.

In January 2010, a three-judge court ordered the state to reduce the inmate population in its 33 adult prisons to 137.5% of design capacity. The three-judge court's order was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court this past May. As a result, the state is mandated to lower its prison population by approximately 30,000 inmates by June 27, 2013.

The budget and legislation Brown signed in June provide the legal framework for realignment and allocations of revenue to counties for their new responsibilities. The total funding provided to the counties this year will be $5.6 billion, and it is expected to grow to $6.8 billion by 2014.

--Jessica Lipsky contributed to this story

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