Home > Uncategorized > Hard times cost O.C. jails $2 million

Hard times cost O.C. jails $2 million

Orange County Register
May 26th, 2010
By Mary Ann Milbourn
A decline in the Orange County jail inmate population — which started about the time the recession began — has cost a handful of jobs and forced jail officials to draw nearly $2 million from reserves.
The Inmate Welfare Fund provides services to inmates that are not mandated by law. It gets its money from commissary profits, commissions on inmate telephone calls and reimbursement for GED and other educational programs.
But since peaking at 6,700, the county’s inmate population has dropped to 4,600 to 4,800 and officials don’t know why, said Sharron Gibson Casler, who oversees the Inmate Welfare Fund.
Even with commissions from inmate telephone calls topping $2.4 million and commissary profits at nearly $416,000, revenues were way down last year.
"If I don’t have inmates to go to the commissary, make phone calls or attend classes, I don’t get the money," Casler said.
During the 2008-09, that translated into a nearly $1.3 million shortfall in the fund. She expects revenues to decline another $600,000 this year before leveling out in 2010-11.
Casler has covered the shortfall by reducing staff primarily through retirements and reassignments. Three people were laid off. She is also working to get more inmates into education programs which are reimbursed by the state.
Still, the decline in inmate population has many sheriff’s officials scratching their heads.
"We’ve had the population decline before maybe for the holidays when judges may not want to send them to jail, but it always bounced back," Casler said. "Every time the economy has gone down in the past, the jail fills up and (inmates) will come back."
Neither happened this time.
Casler thinks it may have to do with deported immigrants not coming back into the country because there are no jobs.
She also speculates that some people who may have been headed for trouble and the legal system may have ended up in the military instead.
In addition, there are also more programs now like drug court to keep people out of the jail system.
"For one year we tried to absorb (the shortfall) thinking it would just be a short blip — but it wasn’t," Casler said.
She said the fund is solvent and not in any danger of overspending.
"By 2010-11 we should be in pretty good shape," Casler said.

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