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Oct 2011
Most nonviolent offenders turned over to Sacramento County committed serious crimes

The majority of criminal offenders sent to Sacramento County under a new law have serious criminal backgrounds - in contrast to how the law was promoted, county officials say.

Since state lawmakers approved the law earlier this year, giving counties responsibility for certain offenders, state correctional officials have said counties will receive offenders who committed crimes that are nonviolent, nonserious, nonsexual.

But that refers only to the most recent crime committed by the offender. Of the 93 offenders turned over to county probation since Oct. 1, the majority have prior offenses that meet the penal code's definition of serious, said Suzanne Collins, assistant chief probation officer.

"To say these people are non-, non-, non- is not an accurate description of who these people are," Collins said during a workshop held Tuesday to go over the county's plans for handling the offenders.

For instance, one offender was sent to the county following a sentence for possession of a controlled substance and a loaded firearm. But the offender previously was convicted of armed robbery, she said.

Another offender who came to the county after serving a sentence for grand theft previously had been convicted of armed robbery.

The plan calling for the shift was created by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and approved by the Legislature. The action came after a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring that California reduce the population in its 33 prisons from 142,750 to 110,000 by June 2013.

The Board of Supervisors expects to vote on the plan Nov. 1. Funded by $13 million from the state for nine months, the plan includes a mix of incarceration and rehabilitation programs.

Collins' remarks added to a sense of growing concern among county law enforcement leaders about what the new law will mean for their already overburdened public safety system. The county has long faced limited jail space and a Probation Department besieged by deep budget cuts.

On Tuesday, District Attorney Jan Scully condemned the state plan, joining Sheriff Scott Jones, who previously complained about it.

"This has been moving way too fast," she told supervisors.

Scully also said the public should have a better sense of offenders being sent to counties.

"They can have an arm-length list of criminal convictions," she said.

Under the new law, the Probation Department gets offenders who previously would have been handled by state parole. The Sheriff's Department has responsibility for offenders who previously would have been sentenced to prison. It has received about 65 so far, and expects the figure to grow rapidly.

"The numbers are staggering, and the bed space is lacking," said Chief Deputy Jamie Lewis.

A county committee of law-enforcement and social service officials approved a plan that would give a majority of the $13 million to the Sheriff's Department to reopen part of its jail and expand its home detention program.

The plan also calls for a little over $4.1 million for the Probation Department to run a day-reporting center that would offer rehabilitation programs.

How much funding should go to rehabilitation vs. incarceration has divided the committee.

The committee earlier this month voted 4-3 on the proposal to spend $6 million on the jail expansion.

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union held a news conference Tuesday and addressed supervisors in a bid to get more funding directed toward rehabilitation.

County Public Defender Paulino Duran, who earlier voted against the jail expansion, also told supervisors that the plan marks a step in the wrong direction.

"We're talking about changing our way of thinking," he said.

Supervisors can't change the funding proposed by the committee. The board can simply send the proposal back to the committee for changes, and four of five supervisors would have to agree to do so.



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