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New Calif. Prison Plan

Above: State prison population reduction goals from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Aired 6/7/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Today is California's deadline to submit its plan to reduce the state's prison population to the Supreme court. We'll hear details of the plan.

Late last month, the United State Supreme Court upheld the order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons by about 37,000 inmates. Today, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has submitted its inmate reduction plan. We'll discuss details of the plan and hear how San Diego County will be affected.

Guests

Julie Small, Reporter KPCC

Bill Gore, San Diego County Sheriff

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: California submits a plan to shrink the prison population by tens of thousands. Former Tijuana mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon, questioned about weapons. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Mexican authorities have detained former Tijuana mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon. Some claim the move is politically motivated. And then we'll hear from a local Scientologist about what he thinks the critics get wrong about his religion. We start with California's plan to comply with a federal court ordered prison population reduction order. Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons by about 33 thousand inmates. Today, the state has submitted its inmate reduction plan to federal court. Joining us with some of the highlights of this plan is KPCC's Julie small in Sacramento. Good afternoon, Julie.

SMALL: Good afternoon, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: So what are some of the key ways the state plans to comply with the Court ruling?

SMALL: Well, they're gonna focus on low level, low risk offenders right at the front. They have a plan that has actually been enacted by the legislature, it's called realignment AB one zero nine. And this plan would shift responsibility for low level, low risk offenders from the state to the county. And it's provisional. It's going forward. No one's getting out of prison tomorrow. It's inmates that would be paroled, who are certain, low level, low risk offense, and also new offenses. So people that would have come to state prison for minor offenses would be sent to the counties instead, and serving their time in county jails.

CAVANAUGH: And what is the timeframe that we're looking at?

SMALL: Well, the Court has ordered these reductions within two years. And the realignment plan was designed as a four year plan. So they're gonna have to speed it up, or they're gonna have to ask for more time. Or they're gonna have to supplement the plan with some other options.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Julie from what I understand, much was said in this news conference today about assembly bill one zero nine. Why is that so vital to the prison reduction plan?

SMALL: Well, it's really -- it's gonna get the reductions, it's gonna achieve a reduction ideally of about 50 thousand inmates within four years. Maybe up to 30 thousand within two. Right off the bat. And you're not letting people out. So, you know, it handles that criteria, and counties actually are -- believe and so does the state that counties can do a better job with certain finds of offenders. They can get them connected to programs that will prevent them from reoffending. They can set them up with housing, they can keep a better eye on them. But they need money to do it. And that's the big problem. The state hasn't funded this AB109 yet, and here's secretary of corrections Matthew Kay saying that they better do it soon.

NEW SPEAKER: We really are -- we're out of time, and we're out of room. And so we've gotta get this done. If it doesn't happen, if one zero nine is not funded and if one zero nine is not implemented, then we're in trouble. I don't want see any other way to get there.

CAVANAUGH: That was Matthew Kate, head of the California department of corrections and rehabilitation, and I want to thank you so much KPCC's Julie small for telling us about today's news conference.

SMALL: My pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: On the line with me now is San Diego County sheriff Bill Gore, and Sheriff Gore, good afternoon.

GORE: Good afternoon, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: So we just heard from Julie small that that's this plan in place to put low level offenders -- hand them back to the counties. Is San Diego prepared for this influx of state prisoners?

GORE: Well, we've been working with the Department of Corrections and the governor's office department of finance on this on how to implement AB109 that Julie talked about. As she pointed out, this is a prospective plan, that means people who are sentenced from the time they implement AB109 for nonserious, nonviolent, nonsex offenses would go to county jails instead of state prison. So it's not gonna be like the State of California dumps 34 thousand inmates into county jails. It will be a gradual increase. Right now, we have room in our jails to handle oh, you know, we have a daily population, it varies, but we could probably handle right now seven, eight hundred more inmates. Now, in when this program is totally implemented, that won't be enough jail beds, but we have room, we have plans down the road to increase our capacity, both in a new women's detention facility at Las Colinas, we'll add four hundred female beds, and then down the road, pardon me, we have plans -- plans to take back a thousand additional beds that are currently being run by the corrections corporation of America, which is a private prison. And it houses federal inmates down in Otay Mesa. That was built on county property, and those jail beds will revert back to the county 2015. So it just -- it's gonna be a timing issue, Maureen. How many -- we might have to build some capacity into the system. And whether we do that or not, you know, in the 2013, 2014 time frame, extends on the money. Like secretary Kate talked about. Whether this is gonna work or not. And I've said this for a month now, whether this AB109 is gonna work depends on the funding. I think we'll -- we at the local level will be able to probably do a better job when the than the state has done of programming these people in our institution in our local jails, where they're just kind of been ware housed at the state level, but this is gonna take money. I think we'll do it a little cheap upper than the state has done. But again it comes down to the funding for the PROGRAM.

CAVANAUGH: Can you tell me just briefly what does it mean, programming the people?

GORE: Well, when I say programming, this is trying to give them, these people that are incarcerate, the skill sets that hopefully give them a chance in succeeding once they're out of jail. This might be substance abuse programming, it might be literacy, anger management, a whole host of rehabilitation programs that prepare these people to assimilate back into society. As you know in California we have the highest recidivism rate in our state prison system. It's 70, 72 percent. So from an economic standpoint, it just doesn't make sense to take these people, put them in -- warehouse them in our state prisons, release them into the community, within three years, they've reoffended and they're back in the state prison system we can pay for them all over again. So if we just lowered our recidivism rate to 40, 50 percent, we wouldn't have an overcrowding problem. That's gonna be the real challenge here I think.

CAVANAUGH: So basically, theoretically, we have the capacity at least to take sort of the first wave of these state prisons that might be released to the counties, but what about paying for them?

GORE: Well, that's what the legislature and the state is wrestling with now. Where's the money gonna come from to pay county jails or county sheriffs to house these people, and also county probation officers to supervisor inmates who were previously supervised on parole, by state parole officers, will now fall under the super violation of county probation officers. So the issue is, where's this money gonna come from? When he signed AB109, governor brown in a side letter guaranteed that one zero nine would not be implemented until it was fully funded in some permanent funding stream from the state. And I take him at his word, and hopefully it will live up to that. . The legislature's gotta wrestle with this now.

CAVANAUGH: Sheriff, do you have request kind of an estimate on how much it's going to cover, let's say just transferring the state prisons who would come here to San Diego County?

GORE: Well, there's -- it's hard to come up with 'cause jail beds, the first -- for example, the first 600 to 800 inmates that are just filling in I already have will probably be cheaper to house in my jail than it will be the four hundred or a thousand, because that will to gainer and maintain those inmates and possibly building new facilities. So there's no one easy number to give you. It's gonna be probably around 35 to 40 thousand realistically per inmate. But that's also gonna have to cover cost of probation. When they first started talking about one zero nine, I think everybody had the idea that it was gonna be for every inmate that was sentenced to county jail, they would come with X number of dollars. In reality, what's going to happen is they're gonna look at the -- take an estimate of the number of inmates that are gonna come to our jails or be under county probation super vision based on the past numbers, people have been sentenced for these type of crimes that have gone into state prison, and they will apply some type of a formula and give San Diego County a lump sum of money. Obviously I'm the most expensive place for that person to be in they jails. That's the most expensive. So if they're out on probation, it's a little less money for the county. And there will be a community corrections board made up of county probation, myself, a member of the board of supervisors, a chief of police, and I think one other member that will look at this pot of money and decide how it is divvied up amongst the agencies.

CAVANAUGH: My final question to you, sheriff gore, we had a local state assemblyman on the program recently and he seemed to indicate that this was going to be a danger to San Diego. That citizens need to prepare by getting a dog an alarm system, getting a gun. Does this proposed transfer of prisoners propose a threat to San Diegans?

GORE: Well, if it's properly funded, I think we will do a fine job. I have a lot of confuse confidence in county probation officers, my jail star personnel. We house before they go off to state prison, when they're in the pretrial status in our jails, we house some of the most dangerous criminals in the State of California. So from a security standpoint, I think we'll be able to handle that, and it all depends on how much money we have to I think make these people better when they come out of our jails than when they went in. So that they have a chance of becoming successful members of our community again. That's what incarceration, to me, successful incarceration is all about. But that doesn't come without a price tag. And that's what we're talking about now is how much money is gonna come with these inmates that the county can use to house them and successfully integrate them back into the community. As far as the safety, you know, there's -- this is not being done for the right reasons. Let's face it. This whole realignment is not a bunch of people sitting around saying how can we make public safety better in the State of California. It's being driven by a supreme court decision that says that, California, you're ignored an overcrowding problem for 20 years now. It's time to pay the piper. Get rid of these people out of your state prison. So we're trying to make a best of a bad situation in my opinion. And I think the sheriffs have been working cooperatively with people in Sacramento, trying to come up with a way to make this work when there's no alternative now. They have to down size the state prison system.

CAVANAUGH: I want -- sorry to interrupt you, but I want to let everyone know that they can read the state's new prison reduction plan released today on our website at KPBS.org. And I want to thank you so much, San Diego County sheriff bill gore.

GORE: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

Comments

Avatar for user 'ematus'

ematus | June 7, 2011 at 12:59 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

I have heard State people describe that it costs less to house inmates in local county facilities than prisons. So do it. It we have the money to over crowd the prisons then we have the money to distribute the population to the county jails. The funding would occur the same way any prisoner transfer occurs. When you move a prisoner, money is transferred to feed, clothe and care for that prisoner through the current bookkeeping.

It sounds like all the official hand-wringing is about trying to game the system for some advantage. The State is grandstanding to try and alter the current costs with the county so they can show a larger budget cut. While the Counties are grandstanding to ensure they get the most funding possible out of this situation.

There are 33 prisons and about 57 County Jails so to begin with the crowding can be alleviated to some degree just by transferring some inmates. The instead of debating the decision, doing the job they're paid to do the least dangerous should be going into probation programs. We don't need to debate this we need to do it. The probation program is far cheaper than housing so there is no funding issue. They have an accounting department and can transfer funds just as jails and prisons can.

The real question is how much money is being wasted by all of the official hand-wringing? The decision has been handed down and if the people in charge where doing their jobs then they would be determining how many county beds are available, in which counties and moving inmates to those available beds. Already a couple of weeks of idle gossip has been expended at taxpayer expense?

This whole three strikes, panacea; just like the prop 13 panacea is, as are all panaceas, is a debacle, that has allowed politicians and contractors to game the system for billions of dollars while NOT providing adequate services/support.

I can't wait for the next panacea that's tossed to the voters in one of California's famously, cryptically worded proposals. This state used to be a hopeful state that was determined to conquer poverty, crime, illiteracy, etc. now all you hear is, "we can't, we need more money." Welcome to "Hotel California!"

If doing something, that has failed, the same way, failing multiple times, is a definition of insanity; then we are justified in putting the entire state legislature in a mental institution and declaring them incompetent by reason of insanity.

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