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Q&A: Alan Jackson on why counties should be able to send inmates out of state


A new bill is on the block would allow counties to use AB 109 funds to pay for out-of-state contracts to house inmates, similar to how the states currently contract with other states. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson and Senator Tony Strickland introduced the bill in hopes of giving counties more options for housing inmates sentenced to local jails. Jackson spoke with KALW’S Nicole Jones on why he thinks this is a smart move for overburdened counties.Al

NOTE: This bill is not endorsed by the LA’s District Attorney’s office, but rather by Jackson as a private citizen, who’s also running for Los Angeles District Attorney.

You’ve recently introduced a bill that would allow counties to use the money they’re getting under AB 109 to pay for out of state contracts to house inmates. Why should counties have this option?

ALAN JACKSON: There’s been a massive shift with realignment with AB 109, a massive shift to the counties. We have basically, here in Los Angeles County, our county jail facilities filled to just about capacity right now. In other words, people are getting out of jail because there’s a lack of beds, on a fraction of the actual time that the judge is sentencing them to in county jail. Now what’s going to happen when 8,000 new inmates per year are sentenced to ultimately state prison to do local custody time for that state prison sentence. There’s simply going to be no room at the end. And I think one of the tools that each county should have is the same tool that the state’s had for decades, and that is the ability to contract with signatory states to an interstate compact that allows for the transfer of California inmates to out-of-state beds for certain payments.

What other options do think counties have to deal with overcrowded facilities?

JACKSON: If we’re out of beds, and someone is sentenced to state prison but they have to do local custody time because they’re an N3 felon, or what’s called a non-non-non felon, the only option is release. Some one has to be released, we can’t simply overcrowd the county jail system, we’re under a mandate, we can’t do that, so release is the only option.

So do you this more of an immediate solution or a long-term goal?

JACKSON: It certainly does have a long term beneficial effect because it gives counties, it give the local public officials who are the ones who are most intimately familiar with what the community is suffering at the hands of the local jail facility, gives them options that they can use down the road. But it also has an immediate effect, I’m hopeful that it has an immediate effect, because I can tell you this, we’re already sentencing people in California and Los Angeles--we’re already sentencing people to multiple years in jail, which normally would be a state prison sentence, where they’re doing county jail time. So those beds are going to be filled, I mean technically they’re not just going to be filled for 90 or 180 days or a year--they’re going to be filled for years to come in many, many, many of these cases.

And what about contracting with counties in the state that have available beds or even using community correctional facilities which have been shut down in the last year?

JACKSON: Look, if we can come up with those funds to open those back up, absolutely I would embrace that idea. I’ve got no problem with it whatsoever. I think we should use any and all means necessary to try to keep the folks who should be incarcerated, incarcerated. 

What are some of the costs associated with counties contracting out of state, and which states are we talking about?

JACKSON: Every state that we’re dealing with could house inmates more cheaply than California. The numbers line up in our favor actually. Colorado, it’s about $21,000 a year to house an inmate, Utah it’s about $22,000 a year, Texas it’s about $18,000 a year to house an inmate. Where  in LA County, not just the state system, but just the LA County Jail System, it’s about $32,000 or $33,000 a year to house an inmate. So they’re may actually be a cost savings.

Nicole Jones joined KALW's Crosscurrents team in 2010 as a reporter covering criminal justice and public safety. Jones is an alum of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Time's online edition and The Bay Citizen.