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County jail braces for more prisoners

September 14, 2012

California’s counties howled when Sacramento told them the state would be sending over some of its low-level prisoners to reduce state prison crowding.

Mono County was no exception, citing costs and potential safety problems. The problem is county jails are not set up for long-term prisoners, with sentences that could run into decades in some cases, it argued.
But the state’s Supreme Court had decided that the overcrowded state prisons constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment and a law allowing the state to “realign” some non-violent, low-level offenders to county jails, AB 109, passed.

In fact, the county is already hosting at least one prisoner who would otherwise be in state prison, with more expected in the future.

All county Grand Juries are charged with “inquiring” into the conditions of the county’s jail, among other duties. In the past year, the Mono County Grand Jury did so, noting that the law made such an inquiry timely.

The inquiry was not triggered by a citizen complaint or any kind of complaint, but was a routine review, according to the 2011-2012 Grand Jury Report.

Grand Juries respond to citizen complaints about government and sometimes do specific reviews of government operations each year.

Here’s a summary of what the jury found regarding the possible impact that AB 109 will have.

“Any parolee released from state prison who has not been convicted of a violent crime or a sex offense, will return to the county probation department for supervision,” the report stated. “This type of supervision is referred to as ‘post-release community supervision’ and it takes a lot of time.”

The state projected four such parolees for Mono County, but the Probation Department currently has seven, the report said. This causes funding issues, since the department is only paid for the four projected cases. The new law funded counties only through June 30. “Future funding is tied to tax initiatives on the ballot. If the initiatives are not approved, the question is where the county will get future funding to implement the new law.”

The Grand Jury report also recommended that the county’s dispatch system and electronic surveillance system be replaced.

“The Grand Jury found that the 911 dispatch system and the prison electronic control systems are reaching the ends of their useful lives. There is no replacement funding in place,” the report states.

The report concluded that the county jail was, in general, well-run, clean and sanitary. But it recommended that the Mono County Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department take the necessary steps to get ready for the impact of the new law and to replace the dispatch and electronic surveillance system.

“Despite the lack of immediate effect, it is clear that the potential for significant additional burdens from realignment is real,” the report concludes. “As the county has to manage prisoners who have chronic health conditions, are older, and reside in the facility for multiple years, meeting the needs of those prisoners will grow increasingly costly.”

“Due to the Grand Jury report just being released to the public, the Sheriff is addressing any concerns expressed by the Grand Jury and will have that report back to the Grand,” said Jennifer Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Mono County Sheriff’s Department.

“When that report is submitted to the Grand Jury, the media will be informed of the response that was given to the Grand Jury’s findings.”

IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE FULL GRAND JURY REPORT:
Where: Find the entire report at www.monocourt.org.

What: The Grand Jury report was released last week. There are several other topics covered in the report, including investigation into the county assessor’s office, the Eastern Sierra Unified School District, the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, the Mono County Public Works Department and more, some of which were started last year and are now concluding.

Who: This year, the members on the Grand Jury included: Foreman Bill Taylor, Victoria Phillips, Richard Bailey, Bea Byer, Mike Boucher, Kathy Cage, Janine Hernandez, Sharlean Magid, Ellen Narita, and Julie Thompson.

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