California Assembly bill allowing inmate release could save jobs

Probation layoffs included in the county's 2011-12 fiscal year proposed budget might not have a severe impact on services immediately, but they could be detrimental to public safety in the long haul.

Despite looming concerns, a saving grace may be on the way.

County leaders met during a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the possibility of saving jobs through Assembly Bill 109, which will allow the release of inmates who are not sex offenders or convicted of violent or other serious crimes.

The offenders released from state prison through AB 109 will become the responsibility of local law enforcement agencies, and state funding will also be passed down to local agencies to monitor those released.

While more public safety funding could surface, the probation department is facing cuts that will force employees to re-evaluate how they operate the department, said Scott Ball, chief probation officer.

In juvenile hall, five employees will be laid off, four vacant positions and three extra help employees will be cut and 15 out of 120 beds will be closed, he said.

The juvenile population over the past six months has ranged from 90 to 100 people, so the ability to detain minors shouldn't immediately be affected, but might become an issue later, Ball said, adding that fewer juveniles are taken in during the summer months.

Because of new policies, more minors can be put on electronic monitoring bracelets, which will help suppress any threats to public safety, he said.

Probation's field services department has also taken a hit in the budget, and remaining staff will be buried in caseloads.

Five probation employees will be laid off and six vacant positions have been cut, Ball said.

Unlike with juvenile hall, the fallout from cuts to field services will be noticeable. "It will result in higher caseloads and it will limit our ability to provide supervision to everyone who needs it," Ball said. "We're going to go through a reorganization."

Though low- to medium-risk offenders might not get as much attention, sex offenders, violent and other high-risk offenders will remain the department's highest priority, he said.

Ball isn't pleased with the cuts to probation, but he wasn't caught off guard by it. "It is what I was expecting," he said. "It's not easy or pleasant to let staff go — that's the biggest heartbreak in the whole situation."

County officials are analyzing the state budget to determine how it will affect funding for local public safety.

The probation department will come back to the board July 26 with recommendations to soften the impact of reductions in force to public safety using AB 109, Ball said.

Though it could save jobs, the bill means more work for local public safety employees. "I'm kind of torn because you want to make sure the state is giving you enough funds to completely oversee this operation," Ball said.

Some layoffs were rescinded during Tuesday's board meeting for other departments.

One public works position was saved, one human services job was saved and six jobs were added back to the department of work force investment budget.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.