Sunday, May 24, 2009

Passing the Buck? Shifting "Wobbler" Offenders to Local Jails

As the CDCR struggles to handle the dismal budget situation, through the guard layoffs, other initiatives are on the table. While some prison expansions are still scheduled to take place, others have been canceled; and the question of inmate release still hangs in the air.

One thing that is being considered, as the L. A. Times reports, is the Governor's plan to move inmates from prisons to local jails. The idea is to target a category of offenses known as "wobblers" - offenses that could be classified as felonies or misdemeanors - and classify them as misdemeanors, thus changing the jurisdiction to allow confinement in local jails rather than in state prisons. Local officials, who deal with overcrowded jails, have balked at this option, and the proposal's fate remains to be seen.


Prison Clinician said...

As usual, if I might add a mental health twist to this issue: If the parole outpatient clinics were re-organized, better funded, and actually provided longer term clinical case management to the mentally ill parolees, and placed under a mental health department outside of CDCR ... this would would at least begin to address the recidivism rate of several thousand (if not tens of thousand) severally mentally ill parolees.

IF this plan does go through, county jails would then have to provide mental health services to thousands more inmates - who would be transfred to these jails. At this time county jails are worse in providing mental health, than the prison system (see a recent scathing Amnesty International report on LA county jails).

However, having said that, I think that the county jail system is far better equipped to provide these services, if the funding was made available. The reason for this is that mental health services in county jails are provided by county mental health departments, and not by the sheriff's office. The issue here is funding, not necessarily a lack of interest, or capability in providing mental health services. Furthermore, there is a continuity of care - where often community/county level mental health clinicians already know the clients who are in jail - and can re-link them upon release/probation.

Hadar said...

I think the "continuity of care" point is extremely important, especially for folks who have committed minor offenses and are in and out of jail. Incidentally, that's one of the things that behavioral health courts are designed to do. It seems, though, that only a small minority of cases that require mental health attention end up in behavioral health courts.