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Tuesday, 16 January 2007 13:05

Governor’s Budget Proposal: How This Affects Amador County?

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Last week in the governor’s budget a policy shift was unveiled. A shift that according to a summary provided by Schwarzenegger's office shows that the governor wants to reserve state youth prisons, which now house 2,800 inmates, for violent male offenders only. By mid-2008, the governor would relocate about 1,340 youths — nonviolent parole violators, all female offenders and virtually all those convicted of drug and property crimes — making them the counties' responsibility. The policy must yet be approved by the Legislature. The plan is already raising concerns among corrections experts, county officials and others who have worked for years to improve the state's floundering system, which has become the receptacle for California's most violent and troubled youths. For some, the idea signals a welcome shift — an acknowledgment, proved through research in other states, that youths typically fare better when they are incarcerated close to theslide2ir families, instead of in prisons hundreds of miles from home.

slide4 "The state system has become the dirty washbasin for every unmanageable kid in California, and by nearly every measure it's a failure," said David Steinhart, a veteran juvenile justice consultant. "It's hard to see how pushing kids back to the counties can be any worse." State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who in the past has called for the outright closure of the state's juvenile prisons, also endorsed the plan: "This is an excellent start, and I hope the counties will embrace it…. Most of the youths who wind up in state care would be better served in a less-violent setting in their own communities." The big question is will local governments have enough beds or suitable facilities for the extra offenders. "One of my concerns is that you've got 58 counties and you'll get 58 different levels of services, and they may not meet the standards we want," said state Sen. Mike Machado (D-Linden), a critic of youth corrections.

slide6 slide7 As laid out in the governor's budget summary, the state would pay for the population shift with block grants, beginning with $53 million next fiscal year. That would give counties about $94,000 to spend on each offender per year, officials said. For the state, however, the shift would mean certain savings. The per-offender cost has risen steadily in recent years because of changes compelled by the courts: improvements in medical care, therapy, sex offender treatment, violence reduction and other areas. It now stands at $145,000 per inmate annually. Experts such as Steinhart suggest that the rising cost of managing juvenile lawbreakers may be the driving force behind the governor's plan. Bernard Warner, the man who runs the state's youth prison system, acknowledged that saving money is a factor. But he said officials had long been mulling a shift of nonviolent offenders to the local level. Amador County Officials are now commenting on the Governors budget proposal including Sheriff Martin Ryan and Amador County Chief Probation Officer Mark Giannini.  “…The proposal to relocate those 1,340 youths would start July 1, 2007 and be completed by June 30, 2008. Those youths would be returned to their home County …they'd be handled however that County sees fit,” said Giannini. He continued, “Amador County doesn't have a juvenile hall.  Right now we contract with El Dorado, Nevada and Yolo Counties for space available beds.”  The County was previously guaranteed beds with San Joaquin County, however Giannini said Amador County ended that relationship almost 18 months ago. 

slide8 Amador County Sheriff Martin Ryan points out that building a juvenile facility if required, within Amador County would be a costly option. “…The cost associated with constructing a juvenile facility, staffing it appropriately with enough correctional staff, and the cost for medical (care) is extremely high.” Giannini points out, “One question would be, of those 1,340 youths how many are being returned to the counties (from which Amador Co. contracts for bed space)?” He goes on to say that, “An option for Amador County could be having guaranteed bed space with one of those Counties.” Giannini explained the hypothetical situation. Amador County (could) pay for say 2 beds whether we use them or not.  Then when we have to detain someone we'd have a bed(s).”  While that is a potential option, Ryan and Giannini acknowledge that the overcrowding concern stands statewide, with most California County facilities operating at maximum capacity. Sheriff Ryan States, “I will be working with the California State Sheriffs Association...(which) is comprised of the 58 California Sheriffs…to discuss our issues and concerns with the Governors Office,” said Ryan.  While the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as their Division of Juvenile Justice continue to languish, Giannini does point out one impressive statistic for Amador County. “Amador County hasn’t committed a juvenile to the California Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation-Division of Juvenile Justice (formerly the California Youth Authority) in probably 4 or 5 years. And we obviously hope that continues,” said Giannini.

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