Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Riverside County plans to start charging jail inmates for the cost of incarcerating them. San Diego County is not convinced this is a cost effective strategy.
Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone wants to recoup some of the extra cost of taking on hundreds of offenders who were formerly the state’s responsibility.
Starting in January, he said, offenders who can afford to pay will reimburse Riverside County $142 for each day they spend in the county jail.
“So, if we have someone who is arrested for a DUI and gets sentenced to county jail for 10 days and they are a working person or they have savings or equity on their home, they will be required to pay the county back $1,420 for the time they have spent in their county jail," he said. "And if they can't afford it at the time, then we reserve the right to put a lien on their home.”
Stone said Riverside books about 60,000 people a year into jail, mostly for short periods. The county has about 4,000 jail beds and he estimated they could be full by the middle of next month.
According to Stone, the State of California is paying Riverside County $21 million for the first nine months of realignment, but the cost to the county is three times that. He estimated if even 25 percent of offenders who spend time in jail pay up, it could generate $6 million a year.
San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn’s office is currently looking into the issue of charging offenders to cover the cost of incarceration. But early indications are that it may cost more to implement the fees than the county could collect from criminals who, in many cases, don’t have any income.
The state has allocated $25 million to San Diego for the next nine months, but the supervisors have only allocated $11 million so far. They are considering how best to spend the other $14 million.
San Diego’s Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins said his experience of recouping the cost of probation suggests fees wouldn’t yield much.
“We charge people to be on probation supervision,” he said, “but our collections on those funds are low - we only get a fraction of the supervision costs that are owed to us.”
Some California counties report receiving more prisoners and parolees than the state predicted in the first two months of the realignment program. But Jenkins said San Diego has not seen that.
He said he has hired more than 30 new probation staff and eventually expects to double the number of probation officers to more than 200. His goal is to lower the recidivism rate so fewer probationers end up back in jail. However, he said, to do that, probationers will need more help with housing, drug treatment and employment.
Several other California counties already charge offenders for jail time, but Riverside is the largest and will impose the highest fee.