County Officials express concern about housing state inmates
Editor’s Note: This story is the second of a two-part series. Part One was featured July 6.
“In Plumas County, if you try to sell meth to my kid, you are going to prison.”
That comment from Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister echoes the sentiment of most area residents.
However, instead of going to the state prison system, nonviolent felons will soon be doing their prison time in the Plumas County Jail.
On June 28, Hollister joined Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood and Chief Probation Officer Sharon Reinert for a roundtable discussion about the local impact of Assembly Bill 109.
AB 109, which will be implemented Oct. 1, will transfer nonviolent felons from the state prison system to the counties.
The county’s criminal justice community warned the 67 beds at the county jail will quickly be filled with felons.
Hollister, Hagwood and Reinert, who have been publicly critical of the new law, talked about some of the problems the county will soon be facing.
Among the topics discussed last week was the financial hole AB 109 will create for small counties.
Plumas County is scheduled to get $199,000 from the state to perform a duty (housing felons) that could cost the county close to $2 million.
Following are more excerpts from their one-hour discussion.
AB 109 is bad legislation
Hagwood: It seems to be so consistent with what the Legislature does. They create garbage, put it into law, and then have to go back and fix it.
Instead of looking at an issue intelligently, with input from the people it impacts and putting together a reasonable, quality piece of work, they just create garbage.
It is really, in the 23-plus years that I have been in law enforcement, the single largest change in the way that we fundamentally do business. It is relatively unprecedented.
And as Mr. Hollister said, it’s just bad legislation.
Reinert: It’s county dumping.
Sheriff looks to residents for help
Hagwood: I’m in discussions right now with entities within the county to clear the way to utilize volunteers to a much greater extent.
If, (at) 2 or 3 in the morning, I’ve got a group of citizens with cellphones and cameras who can be out watching, driving around, taking note — if people in communities understand we have got groups of citizens out there taking care of their neighborhoods and communities — then that is a measure of prevention that I think is essential.
We can’t just emphasize creativity on one front. It has got to be across the board.
I think prevention is invariably going to play a significant roll and we are going to ask people in their neighborhoods and communities to step up to the plate with us and take an active roll.
I think we can craft programs that will bring out the best in people in their neighborhoods and communities.
We don’t need roving pickup trucks full of people wielding ax handles. That’s not what we are going to have. But we can have responsible people who are dedicated to their communities working with us and taking a much more active roll in creating an atmosphere that they want in their neighborhoods.
Reinert: That burden has definitely shifted to us. We are a small community, so unfortunately our resources are very limited. We haven’t had an (alcohol and drug) department for more than three years. Those services are in the process of being re-established.
But, as far as the amount of money we are getting, trying to develop the resources we are going to need, and the quality of services that we are going to need, it’s going to be quite the imaginative task to accomplish.
Hagwood: There’s mental health issues. There’s drug and alcohol issues. There’s literacy and educational issues. Vocational job-training issues.
The bottom line is it takes money to fund those programs. It takes staff to administer those programs.
We don’t have them now. And the county’s not in a position financially to hire a significant number of people to make that all happen.
How do you maintain the officers’ morale?
Hagwood: You lead by example. You need to set the bar with your own attitude. And if your staff members see you as discouraged or disgruntled or frustrated … that can be contagious.
All of us have to stay positive and professional. We know that we are going to succeed. Failure is not an option. And we try to instill that in our staff.
Reinert: I think with my staff, I’m in a position where I can involve them a lot with brainstorming ideas on developing the services and what things are going to look like.
So they are going to be part of the decision making. I think that is going to help.
They voiced their concerns. … Especially with safety issues.
Hagwood: The reality is we have some very difficult time ahead of us. And if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it may very well be a train.
We are very, very fortunate that collectively — between our three departments — we have phenomenal staff.
I think it’s important for people in our communities to develop a genuine appreciation for what we are dealing with.
And I think, as they do, we are going to be in a position where we can try to incorporate as many people in the communities to help us deal with this as we can.
It will be trying. But we are going to really stretch ourselves as far as innovation and creativity.
How soon will Plumas County feel the effects of AB 109?
Hagwood: Sharon is going to be assigned 19 parolees as of Oct. 1, the implementation date. (The parolees) are currently living in the county, and are supervised by state parole agents.
Hollister: As of Dec. 31, 2008, there were 64 people in state prison from Plumas County. Our beds will be filled very quickly. It’s not a retroactive law; it’s prospective. So, we start Oct. 1.
The inmates might be considered ‘nonviolent’ but they are still felons
Hollister: When Gov. Brown says, “serious and violent felons are excluded” … well, someone selling methamphetamine to my son, I think, is pretty serious. Someone breaking into Quincy Drug, I think, is pretty serious. Someone breaking into my car is pretty darn serious.
None of those would be classified as serious felonies.
In Plumas County, if you sell meth to my kid, you are going to prison. I mean that’s just how I feel about things.
The reality is, we are going to have to understand the playing field has changed. That person is not going to prison.
The flipside is, let’s say we get them the first time, and we convict them of possessing methamphetamine for sale. And then we get them six months later doing the same thing. Technically, he could get a sentence that is up to six years. … In our county jail.
So, we are kind of getting it from both sides. We are fighting this battle, making sure there is an appropriate punishment and an appropriate deterrent.
The flipside is we have to recognize that in order to make that happen, that may mean filling up one of our 67 beds for a year, two years, three years.
Is that the type of drain that we can stomach with our limited resources here?
Hagwood: I think Dave touched on a very interesting thing. They call it the “non-non-non”: Nonviolent, non-sex offender, non-gang member. … Non-serious violent felons.
The state says: “You are going to be getting all the nice guys out of the (state) prisons.” … Well, there aren’t nice guys in prison. I’m sorry.
And the drug dealers and the burglars and the thieves … those are all nonviolent offenders.
So the idea that we are going to have this easily managed population is just nonsense. It’s absolute nonsense.
And what bothers me so much is the state damn well knows what they are doing to these counties and they don’t care.
They are just washing their hands of what they have been responsible for … and funded by the tax dollars that go to the state.
Now, they (the state) are going to keep taking all of those tax dollars. And what they are reimbursing us for to do their jobs is a pittance compared to what the actual expense is going to be.
If I end up with an inmate in the correctional center that has a serious medical issue, and I’ve got to pay for that serious medical issue … for years … you are looking at the potential for just bankrupting these small counties.
Hollister: The state made an assumption that all the “non-non-non” offenses are going to be that 16-month, two-year, three-year triad. In doing so, they left out about 60 crimes that technically are “non-non-non” but have a sentence greater than that.
So, we are looking around saying, “What is it that you intend to do here? What is the law we are supposed to follow?”
I think what we are going to see between now and Oct. 1 are many changes. And really just this hodgepodge of ideas thrown together to create, in my mind, what is probably the most important set of laws in our state.
Our constitution dictates public safety is the No. 1 priority for government at every level.
And to put something together like this and make these changes as haphazardly as they did … with solely the dollar sign in view, I think is just a tragic mistake, that hopefully we will be able to recover from soon.
Crimes that are not considered violent in AB 109
Hollister: Felony domestic violence, assault on a peace officer, driving under the influence causing injury, hit and run causing death or injury, evading a peace officer, felon possessing a firearm.
All of these crimes were left out of AB 109. It’s an example of how ill-thought-out this legislation was.
How about putting the overflow of inmates in a ‘tent city’ like they do in Arizona?
Hagwood: That works in Arizona with (Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio) and his funding and his budget. But, I’ve reminded people that I have a responsibility to manage risk and not subject Plumas County to unnecessary litigation.
As much as I would like to put ’em in pink underwear in a tent city … Arizona’s a very different state than California. And (Arpaio) has a much different budget than Plumas County does.
I have a responsibility to the taxpayers in Plumas County, and not to subject them to unnecessary litigation … as tempting as it would be.
What other rural counties are saying
Hagwood: We (sheriffs) talk amongst ourselves, we do. We’re all very much of a like mind. And I know that the rural county probation and district attorneys, we’re all facing the same situation.
And Mr. Hollister is absolutely correct, that the measurable impact that will be felt in smaller counties is going to be so much greater than what citizens of, say, Los Angeles County are going to feel.
Reinert: And that’s the current discussion with the chief probation officers in the rural counties. The amount of money AB 109 is allocating to us is not enough to provide what we need to provide to these (inmates).
How will the county’s share of the state funding for inmates be used?
Hagwood: The Board of Supervisors makes those decisions.
One of the potential problems — and it won’t happen in this county, I guarantee it — is that you end up with a sheriff pitted against the district attorney and the probation department in a scramble for these dollars.
You are pitting family members of the criminal justice system against one another, trying for a money grab.
And again, the state absolutely knows that this is the situation and that they have washed their hands of this. At the same time, continuing to take our tax dollars. This is the real source of outrage to me.
The state has been completely disingenuous. They have been dishonest. I think they have marketed this in a despicable way. They know exactly what it is going to do.
They (state legislators) have gotten to the point — based on their own mismanagement — that they have taken something … they have broken it. And then they have just washed their hands of it, walked away and asked us to fix it.
Reinert: My understanding is the money that is allocated for 2011-12 is only for one year. What is going to happen next year? It’s up in the air. It depends on the state budget.
The situation continues to evolve
Hollister: At some point, someone in the district attorneys association did something to offend Jerry Brown.
Because when he wrote AB 109, and pushed it through — and it was his bill — he specified that each county forms a local community corrections partnership and executive committee. And he specified “the district attorney shall not be part of that committee.”
There has been a rider bill that has been attached to that to include the district attorney and removed the CAO (county administrative officer). So this is evolving. And, as Greg pointed out, not only do the folks in Sacramento know what they are doing to us, they are doing a pretty darn good job of not communicating the particulars.
… It’s just bad legislation.