Not All in Agreement Over Realignment

LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to move nonviolent criminals and parolees from state operated prisons to county facilities may put a strain on local services.

A recent RAND Corp. study, “Understanding the Public Health Implications of Prisoner Reentry,” said that by shifting the prisoners to county jails it could put a strain on local healthcare and social service programs that have already been hit by budget cuts.

The transfer of felons from prison to county jail started in October 2011 and now there is no turning back according to Gov. Brown.

“The only way is forward in a collaborative way,” he said.

The study looked at Alameda, Los Angeles, San Diego and Kern counties, which have significant populations of parolees. The study involved focus groups that consisted of former prisoners and their family members it also included interviews from health service providers and community groups.

According to the RAND study, newly released prisoners need a higher degree of healthcare, including mental health and drug and alcohol treatment options. The study the possibility of releasing prisoners into the community after receiving inadequate healthcare in prison could potentially put a strain on local services.

Community healthcare providers could be left in a situation where they must treat a population with no health insurance, limited funds to pay for care and no medical records for caregivers to make more informed recommendations.

California reduced funding by 40 percent for in-prison rehabilitative programs. Therefore, the prisoners that are being transferred to the county jails may be entering the facility with more healthcare needs that weren’t treated at their prior facility.

According to the RAND study returning prisoners were reported to have a high instance of chronic diseases including, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, as well as infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis.

In addition to chronic and infectious diseases, about two-thirds of California inmates reported having a drug abuse or dependence problem, but only 22 percent of them reported they received treatment while incarcerated.

Some parolees might be in luck with the new federal health care reform bill. The bill might provide an opportunity to alleviate some of the cuts to these services, according to the study. The law would increase eligibility for Medi-Cal that could help more parolees become eligible for medical coverage and care.

Gov. Brown explained that realignment plan was the best way to lower the prison population while still keeping the public safe. Yet, the burden comes back to some county jails like Los Angeles County that is already experiencing overcrowding. The Los Angeles Times reported that the county could possibly move inmates to other counties if there’s no room in its facility.

The study’s lead author and senior policy researcher for RAND, Lois Davis had deepening concerns in California who are affected by the realignment plan.

“Counties across California face a significant challenge responding to this seismic shift in corrections policy,” said Davis in a statement.

Arizona Facing Similar Challenges

Mohave County is battling potential issues with realignment as well. Not only are the medical services being threatened, but it could also prove costly to house an inmate if a new law goes into effect.

If the bill passes a new state law starting July 1, 2012, requires a defendant sentenced to one year or less in the Arizona Department of Corrections to serve that time in the county jail.

Mohave County estimated the cost would be about $500,000 for inmates serving one year or less that are still in jail by July 1, 2012 and $1 million to send future inmates to prison after that date. According to Deputy County Manager, Dana Hlavac the first year could cost up to $1.5 million for short-term DOC inmates and $1 million for each succeeding year.

Mohave County sends about 70 inmates a year to the state prison for sentences of one year or less. The average sentence is about nine months or 270 days. That is equal to about 18,900 inmate days or the county paying the state more than $1 million a year.

To make matters worse, the daily cost to house a jail inmate for the 2011-12 fiscal year was recently raised to $88.82 from the previous rate of $79.46 a day per prisoner. There is also a one time booking fee for all inmates of $65 per prisoner.

If the law passes and inmates are kept in county jail, that would also require additional jail staffing, which means more costs to the county. Along with additional staffing, inmates with special needs such as mental health issues, chronic diseases or pregnancy needs will also have to be addressed and funded accordingly. Hlavac said the county would also have to be equipped to deal with inmates who pose a security threat such as criminal street gang members.

The county’s cost to provide programs to DOC inmates at the jail are unknown depending on the inmate and the programs but could be an additional $100,000 to $250,000 a year according to Hlavac.