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Placer County added its voice Tuesday to a growing chorus of counties calling for adequate, secure funding to handle parolees and lower-risk criminal offenders who will be shifted from state to county responsibility beginning this week.

Known as public safety realignment, the program is shifting to counties greater responsibility for handling many adult parolees and lower-risk criminals who have been the state’s responsibility in the past. Public safety realignment helped the state balance its budget while complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that requires the state to reduce overcrowding in its prisons.

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Placer County anticipates assuming responsibility for approximately 30 new offenders per month beginning this week and is scheduled to receive an additional $3.1 million during the 2011-12 fiscal year to help cover the costs of its new responsibilities.  

Placer County officials are concerned that state realignment funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year may be inadequate to fully cover the county’s new costs and that state officials could deal with future budget challenges by taking realignment funding away from counties and using it for other purposes. A constitutional ballot measure would protect against funding raids while clarifying state and county responsibilities and expectations for the public.  It would also ensure counties have the tools to be successful in protecting the public.

“I know that Placer County’s public safety agencies will do an outstanding job handling their new responsibilities,” said Supervisor Jack Duran. “However, I am very concerned over how the state is giving counties new responsibilities without providing a reliable, long-term funding source.”

Supervisor Duran represents the Board of Supervisors on the advisory committee that is preparing the county’s long-term plan for implementing realignment.

“Placer County has done a great job to date dealing with the challenges created by the state budget crisis, but state officials continue to put us in a difficult position by giving us new responsibilities without adequate financial resources to deal with them,” said board Vice Chair Jennifer Montgomery.         

Last week, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. pledged his support for efforts to provide counties with reliable realignment funding, including a possible statewide ballot measure. The California State Association of Counties is considering sponsoring an initiative if the California Legislature does not get behind the governor’s call for a ballot measure that would seek to provide guaranteed realignment funding to counties.  

Any ballot measure on realignment funding would likely be on the November 2012 ballot.

The Placer County Board of Supervisors has not taken a position on proposals to place a ballot measure before the state’s voters.

Board members and the county budget team emphasized during 2011-12 budget hearings that public safety realignment is creating new strains on the county budget. During budget workshops in August, the board bolstered county budget reserves and contingency funds by more than $5.5 million, gaining more flexibility in dealing with realignment, other potential state budget impacts and possible revenue fluctuations.
“I think it’s going to be a huge challenge,” County Executive Officer Thomas M. Miller told board members during a realignment discussion in July.

Placer County anticipates that realignment costs could exceed state funding by at least $1.7 million or more over the first two years. If the influx of criminal offenders cannot be appropriately managed at the county jail in Auburn, the county would need to move as quickly as possible to open the new jail being built at the Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville. First-year costs for the Roseville jail are projected to be $42 million: $14 million in one-time start-up costs and $28 million in annual operating expenses. 

“In any event, as public safety is paramount, we need to move forward cautiously and strategically in making any decision on utilizing this resource,” Supervisor Duran said.

Placer County’s plan for implementing realignment is being drafted by a state-mandated group called the Community Corrections Partnership Advisory Committee (CCP) and its Executive Committee.

The chair of both committees is county Chief Probation Officer Marshall C. Hopper. The Advisory Committee includes representatives from several county departments and offices: the Board of Supervisors, Probation, the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender, Sheriff’s Office, Health and Human Services and County Executive Office. It also has representatives from the Placer County Superior Court, Placer County Office of Education, local police agencies, community-based organizations and crime victims.

Placer County currently is responsible for about 5,200 offenders and adult parolees.

State officials estimate Placer County will be responsible for an additional 429 offenders and adult parolees on a typical day when the program is fully operational in four years.

Realignment will shift to county responsibility offenders who are classified by the state as nonviolent, non-serious and non-sex offenders if they are sentenced after Oct. 1. In addition, offenders who meet the same criteria will be supervised locally, rather than by the state parole system if they are released from state prison after Oct. 1.

Violent offenders currently in state prison or under the supervision of state parole officers will continue to be the responsibility of the state, as will individuals who commit violent crimes in the future who are sentenced to state prison.

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