By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast jail officials Monday said they have enough beds to house more inmates following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that is expected to cause a spike in county jail populations.
“Right now, I have at least 125 empty beds because we knew that was going to happen,” Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman said.
The key will be whether Gov. Jerry Brown is able to secure funding to help counties deal with an influx of low-level state inmates at county facilities.
“You can’t have counties taking inmates from the state without a way to pay for it,” Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Philip Lawrence said.
Over the last six months, Mendocino County sheriff’s officials have been working with judges, prosecutors and probation officers to bolster alternative sentencing programs and open up jail beds, Allman said. Their efforts include increasing the number of people released with ankle bracelets or to work-release programs.
In Sonoma County, the jail bookings have dropped about 15 percent since 2006. Monday’s population was 956 people, well below the sheriff’s 1,455-person capacity, Lawrence said.
“We could handle additional inmates,” Lawrence said.
However, Sonoma County sheriff’s officials are facing a 25 percent cut to their general budget and stand to lose correctional officer positions.
Counties have also lost essential funding support for alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs. With more inmates, such programs will become even more important tools to help people re-enter the community, Allman said.
Still, housing low-level offenders at county facilities instead of far-flung state ones would likely be better for the inmates, he said.
“It’s going to be easier to acclimate the inmate back to the role of citizen if he’s incarcerated locally,” Allman said.