Sacramento County jail expansion postponed as sheriff finds more cell space

01/27/2012 12:00 AM

01/29/2012 11:50 AM

Four months after winning a contentious battle over a $6 million plan to expand the jail, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones still hasn't moved forward with the plan, raising questions about how the money should be spent.

Jones said he has received more offenders from the state than he expected under a law that went into effect Oct. 1 and provided counties with funding to handle the offenders.

But the sheriff said a decline in other types of incarceration left enough jail space for the new offenders, and he hasn't had to reopen part of the Rio Cosumnes jail south of Elk Grove.

Still, Jones said he expects he will need more jail space eventually and he doesn't want to give up the state funding.

"I think we should get every dollar we were allocated," Jones told the Community Corrections Partnership Committee, a group of county officials responsible for implementing the plan for the new offenders.

Several months ago, Jones and other county officials clashed over how to spend $13.1 million in state funding for taking parolees from prison and inmates sentenced to jail instead of prison. The sheriff ended up with about $9 million of the funding, primarily for incarceration.

Officials who lost out on the last vote repeated their call Thursday that jail funding go elsewhere.

The county's Chief Probation Officer, Don Meyer, said more alternative sentencing such as home detention should be considered.

Mary Ann Bennett, the county's mental health director, said her department has been paying for psychiatric medicine for the offenders without receiving additional money.

Bennett also noted that the sheriff can expect the state to review how he spends the funds he receives. Her department has been ordered to pay back millions of dollars in state funds because of audits by the state.

The jail has received about 176 inmates under the new law since Oct. 1, Jones said. He said it costs $77 a day to incarcerate them.

Housing that many inmates for the nine months covered by the state funding would cost $3.65 million – or $2.35 million less than the sheriff received for the jail expansion.

But Jones said he shouldn't have to give up state funding just because he's been responsible and not added jail capacity until it's needed.

"I know that will open us up to a certain amount of scrutiny," he said.

State officials project that the counties will continue to receive more offenders for incarceration under the new laws. But they also plan to boost the amount of funding the counties receive each year.

Jones also said state funding for the new inmates will help offset last year's loss of an $11 million contract to house state inmates at the county jail.

The committee ended up voting to disburse funding to the sheriff and the Probation Department based on actual expenses and up to the amount approved last year.

What that could mean for any excess funds, if any, is unclear. Meyer, who chairs the committee, said after the meeting that he expects the discussion about jail funding to continue.

State lawmakers approved the changes last year to save money and reduce the prison population in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision on overcrowding.

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