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State prisoner shift starts in Placer County under funding cloud

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Starting this week, Placer County will assume responsibility for about 30 new offenders a month as the state shifts more of the burden for nonviolent and non-serious crimes from state prisons onto counties. Placer County is currently responsible for about 5,200 offenders and adult parolees on a daily basis. State officials estimate Placer County will be responsible for an added 429 offenders and adult parolees on a typical day when the program is fully operational in four years. The shift is part of a state-generated public-safety realignment plan that will boost the Placer County Jail population and probation work after the 30 inmates are released. And while Placer County officials are expressing confidence that law enforcement can handle the influx, they’re also calling for a clearer picture on future funding. Supervisor Jack Duran, who represents the Board of Supervisors on a county realignment planning committee, said he’s certain public-safety agencies will do an outstanding job handling their new responsibilities. “However, I’m very concerned over how the state is giving counties new responsibilities without providing a reliable, long-term funding source,” Duran said. Public safety realignment assisted the cash-strapped state balance its budget while complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that requires California to reduce overcrowding in its prisons. Placer County is scheduled to receive an added $3.1 million during the current fiscal year to help cover the costs of its new responsibilities. But county leaders are joining others around the state asking for guarantees on adequate, secure funding. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said she feels Placer County has reacted well to challenges created by the state budget crisis. “But state officials continue to put us in a difficult position by giving us new responsibilities without adequate financial resources to deal with them,” Montgomery said. Local concerns are coming as other county and law-enforcement officials voice their own reservations. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley stated in an Associated Press story this week that counties will be forced to release lower-level offenders by the thousands before they have served their full terms. “Many serious criminals sentenced to lengthy state prison sentences will still be required to be housed locally,” Cooley said. “Such sentenced prisoners will take up beds for longer periods of time and cumulatively, will substantially decrease available bed space.” The state was forced by budget shortfalls to move some serious crime categories to counties. Cutting more crimes from state prison terms also helped the state conform with a federal court order on overcrowding, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which required 33,000 fewer inmates at 33 state prisons. Placer County anticipates that realignment costs could exceed state funding by at least $1.7 million or more over the first two years. The county expects that if the increased number of criminal offenders cannot be appropriately managed at the Auburn jail, it would have to move as quickly as possible to open the new jail being built at the Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville. First-year costs for the Roseville jail are projected to be $42 million – $14 million in one-time start-up costs and $28 million in annual operating expenses.