I am reaching out to you today to discuss some concerns we’ve been hearing regarding our County Jail populations and the direct impacts the state prison system is having on Mendocino County.
I continue to receive calls and emails regarding the status of the Mendocino County Jail. The Sheriff’s Office implemented strict COVID-19 precautions back in March and we’re doing well with these precautions while continuing to serve our populations.
The population of the Mendocino County Jail was greatly reduced at the beginning of the pandemic. Several policies were instituted including judicial review for release of many persons arrested for new charges. This review is a team effort which includes our Presiding Judge, District Attorney, our Defense Counsel and Probation Department. These reviews focus on the safety of our public with equal emphasis placed on the safety of persons housed within our jail.
We have a duty as well as a moral obligation to serve all including those incarcerated in our jail. This collaboration has served our County and I can’t thank our partners enough for their work on this matter. This has increased the workload dramatically for our judiciary, however, they have taken it on as true professionals.
I am extremely proud of the work which is being done and realize it’s is due to the dedication we have to our communities and the people we serve. This includes the people we have housed within the Mendocino County Jail. Our excellent work and service to our community has become a double-edged sword. It seems the more we take on, the more work we receive.
I remain proud of the work our Corrections, Medical and Inmate Services staff are doing within the County Jail. We have a common goal, to ensure everyone who enters the jail is able to leave better off than they were when they arrived. Many of the programs we’re building are to ensure we are serving everyone. These programs include ensuring people have access to education and training that will allow them to secure jobs and a future after leaving our facility. From the High School GED Program to life skills and college enrollment and classes, we are dedicated to our goals and truly want people to succeed. Due to the limited funding at hand we have been working with our community partners, including our spiritual leaders, Tribal Governments and the Mendocino College. We have to remember many of the people housed within our jail are friends, relatives and neighbors and we are invested in providing opportunity for success. They are a portion of our community and we can’t afford to let them down. Sending them back out to the community without a skillset that will allow them to be financially and emotionally independent and valuable members of society does a disservice to all of us.
Sadly our jail population is currently growing. We are facing issues with housing inmates, who, following their court proceedings, have been sentenced to the California Department of Corrections, in other words, the state prison system. We have almost 20% of inmates in our jail who have been sentenced to prison for their crimes. Recently, the State is refusing to accept them from us. This is causing a burden for our County. The State of California is paying a stipend to counties who are housing their prisoners, however this payment often doesn’t even cover the cost of medical care.
This remains a topic of concern for me as we see many new pieces of legislation within the state where it appears state government is shifting their responsibility and liability to county government. We see the state releasing 17,000 inmates from state prisons this year. While doing this, the state is closing prisons, and, is in essence making private prisons out of our county jails.
What is troubling is how the Governor, his California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDC-R) staff, and the federal receiver are managing the prison population. Instead of sheltering in place, they moved inmates from prison to prison. Predictably, this spread Covid-19 throughout the entire prison system. The result is the shutdown of the reception centers that receive inmates sentenced to CDC-R from county jails. There are thousands of inmates throughout the State that are waiting to be accepted by CDC-R.
Locally, nearly 20% of our population is waiting for CDC-R to reopen their reception centers. This number is continuing to grow as the reception centers remain closed. Some are serving full sentences within our jail, even being released, with gate money ($200 from the CDC-R), from our jail because their prison sentence is complete. The majority of these inmates are convicted of violent crimes. These sentenced prisoners are often extremely violent and dangerous individuals. The necessary level of supervision for these subjects greatly exceeds what is needed for a standard sentenced county jail inmate. I fear this will force us to shift our focus away from the strides we have taken to improve our county jail and the well-being of our populations.
The closure of the reception centers and the past legislative measures to shift State responsibility and liability to the counties, is forcing us to do the work of the CDC-R. In the midst of this situation, the State is closing prisons. The State of California is paying a stipend to counties who are housing their prisoners; however, this payment does not even cover daily cost of housing an inmate. This is causing a financial burden for our county.
The increased workload with little to no funding will eventually cause the same failures in the county jails which we have already seen in our state prisons. This begs the question, is this punishment for a job well done? Or is this simply the state using counties as scapegoats for the failures of their policies? These policies are not only affecting the positive work and programs we are completing in county jails across the state, but also public safety.
Shasta County is currently forced to hold nearly 50% of its capacity in state prison inmates. This week, Shasta County was forced to release an arrestee who had violated parole. This was due to the impacts of carrying the state prison inmate populations. This man committed murder only a few hours following his release. Following the murder, he was in a high speed vehicle chase endangering even more lives, he then fled on foot. I cannot risk a similar situation here.
I will be working with other Sheriffs within California to solve this problem. I believe the state government should be doing a better job with this issue. We have arrived at a point where it is apparent the state wishes to shift responsibilities, rather than properly manage their duties. I don’t believe we should be forced to take on this burden and put the people we are sworn to serve in Mendocino County in second place. I believe we all deserve better.
I believe we can all see the flaws in the states recent policies. These flaws will eventually cause problems for our county. I am again asking Mendocino County to stand with me and make our voices heard at the state level. I would encourage all concerned to reach out to our state representatives and demand positive change. Rural counties are often the first to feel these impacts however the last to be heard.
Thank you for your comments and as always thank you for the support you continue to give the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.