Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Counties miffed that they have little say over Brown’s prison-realignment money

The millions of dollars that Gov. Jerry Brown is giving to counties to manage the state’s prisoner surplus is bypassing the watch of county boards of supervisors. And some counties don’t like this.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors this week passed a resolution vowing to exercise final say over its share of so-called prison realignment funds, despite what Brown’s realignment policy calls for, reported Brad Branan of The Sacramento Bee.

The realignment policy dictates that panels of law-enforcement and social service officials divvy out the cash. It’s a change from the way funds are normally distributed: through elected county boards of supervisors, which oversee just about all county matters.

The Board of Supervisors in Fresno County is also raising questions about the change.

“There is a problem when supervisors cannot participate in the deliberative process,” said Supervisor Andreas Borgeas. “We are virtually irrelevant here.”

The 1½-year-old realignment policy, which has been no stranger to controversy, has put counties in charge of thousands of felons who were formerly managed by the state in an effort to reduce California’s prison population. The state is compensating counties accordingly.

The money, however – about $28 million next year for Sacramento County and about $25 million for Fresno County — is being routed in an unprecedented fashion.

The panels set up under the realignment, called Community Corrections Partnerships, decide how to spend the state funds and county supervisors then vote on the spending plan, but in a way that deprives supervisors of any real power. The supervisors need a four-fifths vote to reject the plan; in other words, only two votes are needed for approval.

Fresno County’s top attorney Kevin Briggs said he’s not familiar with any voting requirement quite like this one.

Borgeas, who calls the voting requirement “undemocratic,” said the impossibly high threshold for blocking the spending plans has kept him from weighing in.

“Each one of us on the board kind of threw our hands up in the air and said, ‘this is a silly process. You’re just asking us to go through the motions,’” he said.

Borgeas explained that if he thought he had any real say in the matter, he might have joined his colleague Debbie Poochigian in voting against Fresno County’s realignment budget, which was approved this week on a 4-1 vote. Like Poochigian, Borgeas believes there’s too much money offered for rehabilitation and not enough for nuts-and-bolts law enforcement programs.

Perhaps other supervisors would have done the same.

Borgeas, an attorney, said if counties begin to step up and challenge the way the realignment funding is approved, as they should, the Attorney General’s Office could soon have a lawsuit on its hands.

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