By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County officials said Tuesday they are prepared to handle the influx of felons that will begin in two months when the state prison system starts transferring “low-level” offenders to relieve chronic overcrowding.
“I believe, for the first year, we’re in pretty good shape,” Robert Ochs, the chief probation officer, told the county Board of Supervisors. Ochs is a member of the state-mandated Community Corrections Partnership committee charged with bracing the county for the shift.
But officials expressed uncertainty about the adequacy of state funding assistance beyond this year.
The Public Safety Realignment Act, signed April 5 by Gov. Jerry Brown, aims to reduce the state corrections population by about 33,000 inmates over the next two years. It is the primary solution to a federal court order requiring the state to solve its overcrowding
The so-called prison realignment will bring about 35 additional felons each month to Sonoma County’s jail and probation systems, Ochs told the board.
The county is set to receive about $3.24 million from the state in the final three months of the year as it begins handling the new cases.
The county also will receive an appropriation of $228,650 to help with the hiring, training, planning and other administrative costs associated with transfers. Also, the county will get a $150,000 one-time grant and $116,150 to be used by the public defender and district attorney offices to cover costs of additional parole and probation revocation hearings.
County officials raised concerns that the formula used to calculate the allocations won’t provide enough funding in upcoming years.
Counties are vying for shares of a fixed pot of state money, Supervisor Valerie Brown said. “We’re going to be pitted against one another for funding, and those formulas are going to be key,” she said.
County administrators will meet in the fall to discuss recommendations on how the funding is working and what changes are needed, Sonoma County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said.
“I’ll be able to represent us, but we’re up against the Los Angeleses and the San Bernardinos,” she said.
Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said his corrections department can handle the influx because the jail has had hundreds of open beds for years.
However, staffing levels reflect the current jail population, and the addition of inmates will require more correctional staff by the spring.
Sheriff and probation officials were expected at next Tuesday’s meeting to approve additional positions to help their departments prepare for the additional inmates and parolees.
The impact of the shift on prosecution case loads was less clear. The impacts in part depend on the success of alternative rehabilitation programs, which are being pitched as a main component of how the county will handle additional people in the criminal justice system, District Attorney Jill Ravitch said.
Putting the onus on rehabilitation rather than punishment will work for many felons. However, there will still be people who “aren’t ready for rehabilitation,” Ravitch said.
“If a bad guy doesn’t want to get better, he’s going to re-offend,” she said.