Gov. Jerry Brown’s public safety realignment plan that shifts the responsibility for incarcerating and rehabilitating non-violent felons from the state prison system to local communities is now under way. Each of California’s 58 counties were responsible for developing their own corrections plans within the framework of Assembly Bill 109. “We didn’t ask for this from the state,” Tuolumne County Administrator Craig Pedro said. “Nor can we ignore it. Life will change as of Oct. 1.”
This “forced adventure in community corrections” as described by Tuolumne County Assistant District Attorney Michael Knowles, will be a continuing challenge. State funding is insufficient; the county jail is at its full capacity of 140 inmates; health care, counseling services, transitional supervision; mental illness care; work release supervision; electronic monitoring of offenders — are all issues going forward.
As reported by The Union Democrat’s Ryan Campbell, nearly all inmates in the county jail serve less than a year; many of the newly mandated prisoners will serve three to five years. Sheriff Jim Mele remains concerned about all the new prisoners, parolees and responsibilities shifting to the counties — and the lack of adequate funding. “That’s why the state is getting out of it,” he said. “It’s not about the prison population, it’s about budget-cutting.”
On top of that, repeat offenders will be a major concern. California already has the highest recidivism rate of all 50 states at 70 percent. The county jail’s recidivism rate is 75 percent. How can small counties be expected to adequately deal with prisoner health issues, rehabilitation and readjustment to society when the state was unable to do so?
Despite all the difficulties, Tuolumne County’s corrections and probation plan is well-constructed and sensible. And the level of cooperation by all parties is commendable. Judge Eric DuTemple, Sheriff Jim Mele, Chief Probation Officer Adele Arnold, District Attorney Donald Segerstrom and County CAO Craig Pedro have forged a workable plan within the limited resources available to them. We’re confident this group of public officials and their colleagues have taken appropriate steps to keep our community safe. They will have to be agile, creative and responsive to many challenges in the months ahead.