Legislation has been introduced to curb questionable spending of jails’ inmate benefit funds.
AB 1782 would require that inmate benefit funds be spent “solely” rather than “primarily” for rehabilitation programs, job training and other things that directly benefit the incarcerated.
The funds are to be used for prisoner phone calls and canteen purchases.
The bill was authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles. It was prompted by an investigation by the Sacramento Bee reporting on questionable spending by the Sheriff’s Office. That included spending on building maintenance, staff salaries and lodging in resort hotels, the Bee reported Feb. 22.
The sheriff’s department took $15 million for staff salaries and bought a $1.45 million photography system, the newspaper reported.
“In many county jails, incarcerated people struggle even to access books and writing materials, let alone educational opportunities, supportive programing or meaningful legal resources,” said Margot Mendelson, Prison Law Office attorney.
“Hopefully this bill will get us greater responsibility and accountability of sheriffs in order to ensure a more successful reentry of incarcerated people back into our communities,” said Jones-Sawyer.
The investigation disclosed how a sheriff over decades has amassed million’s of dollars in fees, paying for projects that are supposed to come from their own budgets, said the article. The county finance department said the spending was technically legal.
The legislation would take away sheriffs’ authority to continue spending leftover money from the fund, and the bill would rename it to Incarcerated Peoples’ Welfare Fund, according to the report.
“When I read how they were using the money, it was almost as if they were using the money to augment budgets that they may have felt cut; it just felt wrong,” said Jones-Sawyer.
In some cases nine out of every 10 dollars from the inmates’ welfare fund, has gone toward benefits, training and jail maintenance, said the article.
Programs that are for incarcerated people include law library and education.
A 2019 federal civil rights lawsuit said the sheriff’s department was ordered to improve treatment and in-custody programming, according to the newspaper. “Extreme isolation and horrific conditions persist,” the Bee reported