Public safety ‘fix’ compounds local burden

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Among the trailer bills passed last week by Democrats in the California Legislature is one addressing the county and local strain created by state realignment that Assemblywoman Shannon Grove fears will only worsen the problem for cities and counties.

Both Grove and State Sen. Jean Fuller voted no on the bills dealing with fallout from AB 109 — the plan that proposed saving money by closing state prisons and resulting in the mass release of prisoners who were transferred to the already-crowded county facilities.

In October 2011, when the plan was first enacted, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood estimated that more than 1,200 prisoners were squeezed out onto the streets. The county in turn passed part of the burden on to local police forces.

Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand told the News Review that a coalition of county agencies has banded together to share resources and information in order to more efficiently keep crime at bay — for example, cities now for the first time have a “road map” that tells where county felons, parolees and probationers are residing — but the city still saw a 10-percent increase in serious crimes in 2012.

But Grove and other conservatives say the Assembly Bill that purportedly deals with this increased burden invests too much in state-level bureaucracy and fails to divert the necessary resources to the front lines.

She said the solution “shortchanges Central Valley counties like Kern that have a high proportion of inmates who at one time would have gone to a state prison.”Meanwhile, a disproportionately higher level of funding is going to urban areas.

“Kern County is struggling to deal with an influx of dangerous criminals, and under the Democrats’ allocation formula, it will continue to be difficult to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

She explained that under the current formula for reimbursement to prisons, the money to house prisoners goes to the county in which inmates are incarcerated. Under the new formula, money will go to a prisoners’ county of residence, potentially forcing counties like Kern to absorb the cost of housing out-of-county inmates.

Grove said that the plan also creates a new state department and funnels money that should go to local law enforcement agencies instead to the California Department of Justice.

Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-San Luis Obispo, said that inmates under house arrest are blatantly removing their monitoring devices because agencies lack the staff to track down those criminals.

“For goodness sake, please provide counties with the funding to take care of this.”

The bill was carried with the support of Democrats.

Fuller said the public safety concerns in last week’s budget extend to inequitable funding to courts and arbitrary gun-control legislation, as well.

“Residents who use courts in rural areas will see limited improvements, if any,” said Fuller.

“The budget does not provide the needed funds for front-line law enforcement, critical to combat the effects of prison realignment. Coupled with the passage of misguided gun-control legislation, law-abiding citizens have reason to be frustrated and angry.”

Story First Published: 2013-06-19