Gov. Gavin Newsom will introduce a broader criminal justice reform package as part of his 2020 prison budget plan.
His plans include step down facilities that focus on rehabilitation and reentry options for people being released from custody. He ultimately wants to shut down one of the state’s 35 prisons, according to an article in the Sacramento Bee.
Governor Newsom’s plans are to give the state more power to oversee local sheriffs and lock up facilities. This is possibly due to California’s surge in homicides in some of its largest jails. He has sighted that inmates are held in inhumane suicide watch conditions monitored by lo- cal sheriffs, who rebuff state inspectors, according to the article.
“I’m generally not satisfied with oversight, period. Across the board,” Newsom said on the state’s supervision of the 70,000 inmates housed in county jails. “There’s not a lot of accountability and over- sight in terms of these issues and county jails.”
Governor Newsom’s ad- ministration is studying what changes could be made, but offered no specifics as to what changes will be made as of yet. Governor Newsom’s spokes- person said the governor will announce what changes will be made in January when he reveals his state budget.
There was a yearlong investigation by McClatchy and ProPublica, which exposed that county jails have struggled with the influx of inmates serving longer sentences after the 2011 series of reforms that included a measure that shifted inmates from the state prison system to serving their sentences in local county jails. This was due to the state declaring that California prisons are unconstitutionally over-crowded, according to the article.
“I’m generally not satisfied with oversight, period. Across the board,”
California lawmakers created the California Board of State and Community Corrections to oversee the burden of realignment. Their role was to increase funding for facility construction. The news agencies found the committee “toothless,” according to the article. Some of the reasoning was that the committee did not monitor jail deaths.
“State corrections officials do not have the authority to make county leaders change, and they generally see them- selves as partners, not regulators,” said Allison Ganter, deputy director overseeing the inspection team,
When the homicide rate soared in these facilities, the committee could not force counties to construct new or safer facilities. This was even after billions of dollars had been awarded in state financing to replace decrepit facilities.
Fresno County jail has experienced 47 deaths since the realignment program was instituted. This is twice the number of people who had died in the several years prior to realignment.
A bill has been introduced by Assembly member Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. This bill would allow counties to create oversight groups with the power to subpoena county sheriffs but was shelved after opposition from local law enforcement. McCarty has vowed to re-submit another version of the bill next year.
The state corrections board cited Kern County’s jail due to suicidal inmates being locked in closet-sized rooms with nothing but a grate in the floor. These inmates were given a rip resistant yoga mat to sleep on. After incidents the jail switched to giving the suicide watch inmates blankets, according to the Sacramento Bee article.
McCarty said this is yet another example of mental health abuses, negligence and lack of proper oversight by a county sheriff’s department.
“This type of lax oversight results in lawsuits and settlements where taxpayers continue to foot the bill and pay for the misconduct of our sheriff’s departments across California.”