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Cannella: State caused jail woes, crime hike
Realignment may not be a household word to many Californians, but residents everywhere are getting a taste of the higher crime resulting from the state program.

State Senator Anthony Cannella, D-Ceres, told a Friday morning Ceres Chamber of Commerce breakfast gathering that while he was opposed to the governor's plan to shift "the best of the worst" in state prisoners to county jails, changes are needed to help local communities deal with the problem.

Cannella said transferring lower level offenders from state prisons to local jails "in theory it makes sense because local government is the most responsive form of government," but hurts local communities for lack of adequate funding.

"The counties are stuck with the costs to implement this program," said Cannella , who was Ceres mayor before being elected to the state Senate.

He faults Sacramento for rushing to pass the law, asserting that lawmakers spend too much time arguing about "little things" while spending little time on important matters. "Realignment was rushed through and now we're dealing with the consequences," said Cannella. "And the consequences, I think, are pretty scary for all of us."

County jails were already full before the state began shifting state prisoners over. "The sheriffs are saying, 'We don't have the space.' So what they're doing is they're releasing their other prisoners. The problem with these county (prisoners) is typically they have drug problems... and to feed those habits they go and steal your copper, they do other types of property crimes. So the sheriffs and district attorneys are telling me property crimes are through the roof."

Cannella said another problem is that county jails are not set up for longer term sentenced inmates. State prisons are set up with yards, jobs and vocational training; county jails are not and thus inmate populations will be more hostile.

"I doubt the governor is going to wake up and say I really screwed up on that realignment; I better get rid of it, so ... we have to try to figure out how to implement it."

According to Cannella, flaws that need to be fixed including the funding disparity between counties. "I would argue it's not being funded correctly," Cannella told the Chamber gathering.

The first-year funding formula was adjusted for the second year and some counties received increases. For example, Alameda County's realignment funding went from $18.4 million to $29.2 million and Contra Costa's jumped from $9.1 million to $19.2 million. Despite having few prisoners, Marin County saw a jump from $2.6 million to $4.6 million. However, Stanislaus County funding has fallen flat in realignment funding, as has Monterey County which is experiencing a high level of gang crime convictions.

"There's a problem with this formula," said Cannella. "It doesn't make sense and it's not fair. Really, we, our area, continue to get hurt. We have a lot of prisoners but we get a lot less funding and we got no more funding than we did last year."

In some counties where inmate populations exceed available beds - Monterey County is 120 percent of capacity - counties are transferring inmates to jails in other counties which have extra beds. The problem is that counties with room want to charge $100 per inmate per day when funding only covers $10 a day. Likewise, CalFire said it will accept prisoners for firefighting camps but the state wants to charge counties $65 per prisoner per day.

"We have to fix that," said Cannella. "Instead of just giving areas money... have that money follow the prisoner. There will be no net increase to the state at all. But the counties that actually house the prisoners will get the money."

"I think there's a chance for something like this because it's fair."

Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini agreed with Cannella that some remedy is needed, stating, "our jail was full before you implemented this program."

Cannella was asked to speak to other issues, including the state's dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California. Cannella said he believes the action was a mistake since it took away cities' and counties' ability to invest in their communities and was a driving force in supplying affordable housing. He noted how redevelopment helped eliminate blight, helped build the Ceres Community Center, improve the Costa Fields ball park and laid the groundwork for downtown revitalization.

"That's done," he said of redevelopment. "What are you going to do when 90 percent of your general fund goes to public safety? You're never going to do anything in this community. It's not going to happen."

To address the state's need to invest in affordable housing, Cannella said he supports a bill which would tack on $75 to a $12 property title recordation fee for affordable housing in the wake of the elimination of redevelopment. His support would only occur, however, if there are guarantees in place that the state cannot raid the fund for other purposes and only if Stanislaus County keeps its fair share.