Sacramento sheriff opens more jail beds amid criticism of priorities

02/24/2012 12:00 AM

10/25/2012 8:02 AM

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones recently opened a wing at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center to handle offenders sentenced under a state law passed last year.

Jones and other county officials have faced criticism since approving the use of $6 million in state funds to open 275 beds at the jail near Elk Grove.

Complaints that the county was not spending enough on rehabilitation were renewed when Jones said last month that he had not received enough new inmates to open the jail facility.

But Jones said Thursday that he has been receiving more inmates, including those sentenced under a law approved last year giving counties responsibility for lower-level offenders once housed in state prison.

The reopened Roger Bauman Facility is now holding 60 to 75 inmates, said Chief Deputy Jamie Lewis. They are not just inmates sentenced under the new law, who make up roughly 200 inmates held at various jail facilities, he said.

The county's jails also have another estimated 275 parole violators who previously would have been a state responsibility, Lewis said.

Sacramento and other counties are grappling with how to handle thousands of offenders turned over by the state in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision on prison crowding and because of state budget deficits.

With the Sheriff's Department using fewer beds than originally anticipated, Jones is still facing pressure to give up some funding for rehabilitation programs.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson has sent a letter to Sacramento County officials telling them to change their funding priorities for criminal offenders from the state.

In a letter this week to the county's Community Corrections Partnership, which approved the county's plan for handling the offenders, Dickinson said he was opposed to its plan last year because too much of its $13 million in state funds went into incarceration instead of rehabilitation.

He said the current approach means the Legislature's "vision will go unrealized in Sacramento County."

Dickinson said he had held off on his criticism because of Jones' stated need for more jail space, but then he learned Jones was holding off on reopening part of the jail.

Jones said he has no interest in reallocating the state funds. He also criticized Dickinson's request because of the state's poor record in rehabilitating inmates.

The Community Corrections Partnership has discussed the possibility of redistributing unused funds from the state.

Steve Lewis, chief assistant public defender, said it's inappropriate for the sheriff to have unfettered use of the state money if he's not sticking to the original plan. Lewis said he'd like to see more money go to drug treatment and mental health counseling.

But some committee members said it's more likely that the debate about how to distribute funds – to rehabilitation or incarceration – will continue as they take up the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Others said the sheriff should provide a detailed report of how he is spending the state money.

"There's some controversy about using the money for jail beds," so Jones should amend his spending plan, said Ann Edwards, the county's health and human services director.

Jones said responding to the requirements of the new state law will cost his department more money than he's receiving, regardless of whether he sticks to the original plan. However, he said he had no problem providing an updated report of his spending.

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