California Gov. Jerry Brown called yesterday for a major shift of state prisoners to the county jail system, a plan aimed at saving the state money, reducing overcrowded prisons, and attempting to better handle juveniles and low-level offenders who cycle through the justice system at great cost to the public, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Brown's plan would eliminate the state's juvenile prison system, sending offenders to their home counties and reducing costs that have reached more than $200,000 annually per youth inmate.
Brown's budget outlines his plans for the state to house only the most serious and violent adult felony offenders, while shifting low-level adult offenders, all youth offenders. and parolees to county systems “where they are known to local law enforcement and where community support systems exist.” Local governments, his proposed budget says, are better positioned to end “the revolving door of the corrections systems” by determining what types of monitoring, treatment and training inmates need. The shift with adult offenders would contribute in part to a decrease in the state's 2011-12 fiscal budget of $485.8 million. Eliminating the Division of Juvenile Justice would result in a 2011-12 savings of $78 million — and $250 million annually after the program is completely ended by June 2014. “Today, almost 50,000 people are sent to prison and spend less than 90 days,” Brown said in a press conference. While sheriffs like Santa Clara County's Laurie Smith are not opposed to the idea of taking on state inmates, they insist they cannot do so without adequate funding — even in counties like Smith's, where there is bed space available. In counties at capacity, some lower-level jail inmates may have to be released to make room, said Nick Warner of the California State Sheriffs' Association.