Dispute widens over Sacramento County sheriff's jail funding priorities

03/22/2012 12:00 AM

03/08/2013 5:23 PM

Facing criticism about how he was spending state money, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones reopened a jail wing Feb. 1, saying he had an increase in inmates.

But the department's own figures show that the inmate population at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center was at its lowest point in at least 25 months.

The county's decision to spend $6 million in state funds to reopen a wing at the center has been a source of controversy since it was made Nov. 1. Coupled with $2 million for home detention, a majority of the county's $13 million in state funds will be spent on incarceration of offenders rather than rehabilitation.

The state started giving counties responsibility for lower-level offenders Oct. 1. Sacramento County expects to start discussing its second-year budget for those offenders at a meeting today of its Community Corrections Partnership.

Jail population figures show the county needs to re-examine its funding priorities and put greater emphasis on rehabilitation, said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

"In each county we ought to be asking ourselves how we're spending the money and if it's the best way to achieve our objectives," said Dickinson, a former Sacramento County supervisor.

In a report released Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union also criticized the "dramatic increase in spending on county jails" in Sacramento and other counties under the new state law.

Jones has consistently maintained the need for jail funding to handle new offenders from the state. But his explanations about use of the funding have changed.

In January, he told the Community Corrections Partnership that he had yet to reopen the jail wing because he still had available space at Rio Cosumnes. The announcement drew criticism from Dickinson in a letter to the partnership, saying the county should put the money into rehabilitation programs.

In February, a Sheriff's Department official told the partnership that the jail wing at Rio Cosumnes had been reopened, but did not explain why. Jones told The Bee that an increase in inmates drove the decision.

But the average daily population at Rio Cosumnes was 1,747 inmates in January, the lowest figure since at least January 2010, according to figures from the Sheriff's Department.

Asked about the apparent contradiction earlier this week, Jones at first said that the figures didn't make sense to him and he needed to check them.

He said later that the decision to reopen the wing needed to take into account the population at both county jails – Rio Cosumnes and the main jail in downtown Sacramento. The combined population in the jails was higher in January than it had been in some months, he said.

The total average daily population at the jails was 3,895 that month, the fifth lowest monthly average in the last 25 months.

Rio Cosumnes receives most of the county's sentenced inmates, including those sentenced under the state law giving counties new offenders. The main jail primarily holds pretrial detainees.

Dickinson said that Sacramento County needs to establish better accountability as it spends state funding for new offenders. The state will increase its funding to the county from $13 million to $33 million in the coming fiscal year, he said.

Don Meyer, chairman of Community Corrections Partnership, said every county program will have to account for its spending in an annual review and when they make proposals for renewed budgets.

The California Legislative Analyst's Office has recommended that state lawmakers consider adding oversight requirements because "the general public and their elected officials will expect information on how well local agencies are operating the various realigned programs in order to hold officials accountable."

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