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DSA In the News

Jail realignment spurs backup plans

Published on 4/15/2011

The state’s plan to keep prisoners in local jails could cost San Mateo County $27 million more than currently spent on daily inmate expenses and any state reimbursement will be stretched across departments, Sheriff Greg Munks said yesterday.

Using the calculated daily jail rate of $169.92 per male inmate, the individual cost is $62,000 a year which collectively could mean up to a $27,180,403 potential increase in costs, said Munks.

The state will repay roughly $10 million but other departments such as the Health System and the Probation Department will also make calls on the funds, he said.

Munks will share this information, as well as concerns that state prisoners will bump local inmates from the jail, at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Criminal Justice Committee. Munks has been updating the committee, and all county officials, on the potential impacts of state realignment since the governor’s initial proposal. 

With state leaders now having approved the plan — albeit predicated on funding — Munks said an understanding of what could come is even more pressing.

“There’s a greater sense of urgency. We’ve embarked on a series of meetings with specific stakeholders for the express purpose of working on realignment,” Munks said.

The costs will hit all counties statewide but, in San Mateo County, where Munks and other officials are pushing construction of a new jail to ease its own overpopulation, the shift could magnify the challenges.

To accommodate the plan, the county will need to turn to incarceration alternatives but most of the prison inmates will not qualify because they’ve already failed the less-severe county system, Munks said.

That means those who would otherwise serve their sentences in jail for a variety of crimes, mainly misdemeanors, could be sent instead to other types of supervision like electronic home monitoring or transitional housing. The challenge, Munks said, is figuring out who can safely be released from the jail.

“We’re pretty confident we’ve scoured our population already for the ones suited to that. Now, it will be done not as a decision based on what’s best from a treatment standpoint but from who’s least harmful to the community. And that’s not a good criteria,” he said.

 Coupled with limited funding and space available by the county and community-based organizations, that option could have an overwhelming domino effect without more funds from the state.

Although the current daily jail rate is $169.92 for men and $227.29 for women, the state reimburses the county only $77.17, or 45 percent of costs. The price tag includes the cost of staff, food, clothing, transportation and medical needs.

The Feb. 25 proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance assumes a 24-month average length of stay for low-level offenders including parolees. A sample studied by the Sheriff’s Office showed that 100 of 400 inmates sent to the state corrections department during a 90-day period qualified for realignment. Of those, the average stay needed to finish their sentence was 12.1 months which is the figure multiplied by the daily jail rate used to calculate costs. 

The bigger unknown is if the bill allowing the shift will take effect. Brown added the caveat to its approval that funding must be identified and committed first; with tax extensions appearing unlikely to come before voters in June, the question of where the money will come from is unclear.

Even so, Munks said the county needs to be prepared by developing its own contingency plans and keeping abreast of action at the state level.

“I’m still hopeful that if they do this they will find the funding,” he said.