On April 5, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law that will shift the responsibilities of housing many non-violent felons from state prisons to county jails.
Brown wrote in his statement that “this bill is a bold move in the right direction.”
Dubbed “The Public Safety Realignment Act,” Assembly Bill 109 will force felons convicted on or after July 1 to serve sentences of up to three years in county jails. The previous limit on time served in county jails was one year. Counties will also assume parole duties for most inmates, who will be able to reduce their sentences more quickly for good behavior. No inmates will be transferred from the state prison to local jails. Only the newly convicted felons will be affected.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the law would result in an increase of roughly 130 inmates at the county jail and that the department will increase its alternative sentencing programs--like house arrest and work programs--to free up room and look for ways to keep the hardened prison population separate from your average Joe serving for a DUI.
“We don’t have the facility for it right now,” Parkinson said. “I can’t put ’em in there. It’s either release [them into the community] or find alternatives.”
Brown signed a companion law, AB 111, that will make it easier for counties to access state funds for the new responsibilities, and the entire realignment currently hinges on Brown’s proposed tax extension he hopes to take to state voters.
“I will not sign any legislation that would seek to implement this measure without the necessary funding,” Brown wrote.
Anthony Simbol, of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, told New Times that by transferring the necessary funds to the county level, the state would essentially continue to pay the cost for jailing any affected inmates.
But if that’s the case, why bother? Simbol gave two reasons: He said locals are more flexible and better equipped to manage these programs more efficiently. But the main reason for the change, he said, is that Proposition 98, passed in 1988, forces the state to spend at least 39 percent of its general fund on education. This realignment would free up billions of state dollars, transferring the funding concerns to counties’ discretion for how to house inmates. The change is expected to save $2.3 billion after it’s fully implemented.
All three local representatives—Sen. Sam Blakeslee, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, and Santa Barbara Sen. Tony Strickland—voted against the realignment.