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Sacramento supervisors question proposed federal prison transition facility

For 13 years, the federal court division covering Sacramento and 22 other Northern California counties has gone without a facility to help inmates transition to life beyond prison.

The need for a new re-entry unit has become pressing enough that four top Sacramento-based federal officials spoke Wednesday to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors about a lease that would turn over the former Boys Ranch to a private contractor who wants to convert the rural property for that use.

Benjamin Wagner, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, told the supervisors that resident opposition has repeatedly killed proposals to open a re-entry facility elsewhere. The program would help nonviolent inmates re-integrate into the community as they serve the final year of their sentence, including helping them with employment. They would be able to leave the facility unsupervised on a regular basis.

Wagner was joined by the chief probation officer, public defender and U.S. marshal who work in the Sacramento division of the Eastern District.

Sacramento County supervisors said they understand the need for a transitional program but aren’t ready to support the Boys Ranch proposal. They said they want to consider other options for the property before making a decision on a $500,000-a-year lease proposal from GEO Reentry Services, which operates similar facilities elsewhere in California.

“The region needs a re-entry facility, but this is not the right location,” said Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan.

While the area does not have much residential development, some eastern Sacramento County residents have expressed opposition. The owner of the Double CC Ranch wrote to the board, saying she was worried about her safety.

County staff proposed that the board vote on the lease next month. But supervisors said they first want to discuss alternatives for the Boys Ranch property, which provided rehabilitation to juvenile offenders until it was closed in 2010 to save money during the recession. The ranch is located east of Rancho Cordova near Scott Road and Jackson Highway.

Some supervisors questioned how much sense it made to put the facility in a rural area, a long distance from the government services that inmates would need.

Wagner agreed it would be better to locate the facility in an urban area, but such locations haven’t been available.

Federal officials said not having a re-entry facility creates its own risks.

“This is about public safety,” said Albert Nájera, the district’s U.S. marshal and former Sacramento police chief. “These people will be less likely to re-offend if they have a good start.”

Volunteers of America ran a re-entry program in Sacramento until 2001, when the group decided to close the operation because it could not meet expansion requirements by the federal government, the facility’s former director told the board.

Since then, inmates from the Sacramento area have had to go to San Francisco or Oakland for re-entry services. That has meant they sometimes don’t seek permanent jobs or stay in counseling programs, because they sever ties when they’re eligible to return to Sacramento, Wagner said.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916)321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

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