The Public Safety committee engaged in very lively debates on several issues of concern facing our counties. One issue was the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) proposal to shift thousands of prison inmates back to county jails. Seen as a cost savings measure to the State, DOC is proposing that all inmates with one year or less on their sentence at the time of sentencing remain in county jails instead of entering the prison system. DOC believes such a change would save the State $56 million but the cost shift to the counties would be more than double that amount. Using very conservative data provided by DOC, FAC estimates that it would cost counties over $100 million in additional jail days alone, not counting additional variable costs such as medical, legal and construction/renovations costs. Approximately 20% of our counties are currently operating near, at or over capacity which would require them to build additional facilities in order to accommodate the extra inmates. Once you take into consideration these variable costs , the $100 million estimate rises exponentially. Accordingly, the counties voted to OPPOSE the State shifting inmates with less than a year on their sentence at the time of sentencing to jails instead of prisons.
GOOD NEWS UPDATE!
However, this week after a great deal of media coverage and outrage expressed by commissioners and sheriffs, the Department of Corrections this week committed publicly that it would not pursue its budget proposal to shift certain inmate costs to the counties.
Another issue that generated a lot of discussion was juvenile detention. Since 2004, the counties and the State share the financial responsibility for secure detention for our youth. Secure detention is a temporary detention status for youth in the juvenile justice system. The majority of youth in secure detention are waiting for their cases to be resolved. The Department of Juvenile Justice estimates a county’s financial responsibility for detention based on the county’s prior year utilization days and then does an annual reconciliation at the end of the year to account for actual utilization.
For FY11-12 the counties paid over $67 million to DJJ for secure detention. This past summer, an administrative law judge found that the rules DJJ promulgated to administer the funding of detention were contrary to state law which resulted in the counties paying more than they were obligated to for the past few years. While the counties maintain that the juvenile detention should be funded and operated entirely by the State, barring such a take back, the counties ultimately voted to SUPPORT the dissolution of the current shared County-State Detention relationship in a manner that eliminates the administrative burdens for all parties and establishes a more collaborative and equitable detention model designed to serve the best interests of our children.
The committee also talked at length about the proliferation of synthetic drugs in our communities. Products are being marketed as ‘bath salts’ and ‘pot pouri’ that are synthetic substitutes that mimic the pharmacological effects of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and other illegal drugs. Despite being labeled as “not for human consumption” these synthetic substances are being used as recreational drugs. These products are particularly attractive to children and young adults due to their availability at convenient stores at minimal cost and packaged with their favorite cartoon character. Unfortunately, these substances are often more potent and dangerous than illegal drugs and have very serious side effects. As a result, the committee voted to SUPPORT expanding the controlled substance schedule to include new iterations of synthetic formulas that mimic the effects of illegal drugs and to SUPPORT prohibiting certain types of packaging and marketing of any products claiming to mimic the effects of illegal drugs.
Other issues that were discussed related to capping inmate medical costs, the regulation of pain management clinics and pre-trial services programs. Ultimately the committee voted on the following 4 priorities:
- Supporting the State taking full responsibility for funding and operating juvenile detention.
- Opposing efforts by DOC to shift inmates to county jails.
- Opposing any initiative that would restrict county pretrial service agencies.
- Supporting legislation aimed at stopping the proliferation of synthetic drugs.
For more information or questions, please contact FAC Public Safety Advocate Lisa Hurley.