Parolee Shift Under Consideration in Sacramento

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A plan to shift supervision of thousands of state prison parolees to counties is gaining momentum in Sacramento. California's serious budget crunch has lawmakers looking for ways to save - and quickly. If approved, the plan would cut the state's parole budget in half next year. KPCC's Julie Small reports that counties are worried they'll get stuck with the bill.

Julie Small: Take 71,000 state prison parolees who served their time for nonviolent offenses, like drug sales and theft, and shift them to county probation officers. That would give inmates better access to local rehab programs to keep them out of prison. It would also save California half a billion dollars in the process. The state's legislative analyst office crunched those numbers and came up with this plan, but Jerry Powers of the Chief Probation Officers of California doesn't like the math.

Jerry Powers: We have one probation officer for every 250 individuals on probation, and we're going to add additional responsibility to that. The numbers don't make sense right now.

Small: Power agrees counties would do a better job of reintegrating ex-cons into society – if they have enough money to do it. Under the legislative analyst's plan, the state would pay counties $495 million to take on the parolees. That's more than the state spends. But Powers says the state's not providing them with the kinds of costly programs counties do.

Powers: Jail beds, probation officers, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, vocational training. All of that costs money. Is this enough money to do it? And is it coming from the right pot of money?

Small: The plan calls for siphoning some state money from city crime prevention programs, and the rest from the DMV and state water agencies. The chair of the budget subcommittee on public safety sees no problem there. Democratic Senator Mike Machado is more concerned with making sure all the state dollars would reach the right destination.

Mike Machado: Probation doesn't get all the money that may be allocated for their services, because it's siphoned off to do other programming or other expenditures within the counties. We have to be assured that the dollars necessary to carry out the programming get to the people that are going to be doing them, the probation officers. If it becomes a source of funding for other purposes within the counties, it will defeat the purpose.

Small: The plan has a way to go. It's not even a bill yet, but with lawmakers scrounging for billions of dollars in spending cuts, it could take off quickly. If the legislature enacts the plan, California could shift responsibility for state prison parolees to the counties as early as next year.