More than a year after California shifted oversight of nonviolent felons to counties, Contra Costa is still battling over how best to spend the $19 million that came with its new charges.

The seven voting members of the county's Community Corrections Partnership -- the top law enforcement, court and public health leaders charged under Assembly 109 with crafting the prisoner realignment plan -- remain deeply fractured along philosophical lines and have been unable to pass a 2012-13 budget.

As a result, the county is managing roughly 300 felons with 35 staffed positions under an extended startup budget adopted in October 2011, when it began taking custody of offenders who would have otherwise gone to state prison.

The delay in adopting a budget means the county is months away from launching new community-based programs specifically aimed at reducing recidivism, or the rate that offenders return to jail.

The partnership will try again Friday morning to reach compromise. When and if it adopts a budget, the spending then requires four out of five votes of the Board of Supervisors.

"We are extremely frustrated," said partnership chairman and Chief Probation Officer Phil Kader. "We are a fractured CCP. But I am hopeful there will be an agreement (Friday) to at least fund the essential services."

Kader, Sheriff David Livingston and District Attorney Mark Peterson argue that they have put forward reasonable spending plans for core enforcement, incarceration and post-release monitoring functions.


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And there is still plenty of time and money left for the community-based inmate re-entry and transition services that progressives want, they say.

Across the chasm, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus also used the word "frustration."

The police chief says his traditional law enforcement colleagues publicly voice support for community-based services but consistently block efforts to fund them.

"They seem to feel their department budgets should be adopted without question or scrutiny, and anything left over can be doled out to community organizations," Magnus said. "But no one has a monopoly on the high ground, and as soon as everyone realizes we have to work with each other and that process and public engagement is important, the sooner we will reach common ground."

The county's sheriff, district attorney, probation, public defender and health departments have requested a total of $15.2 million this fiscal year. The sheriff has backed away from a controversial jail bed expansion plan at the West County Detention Center but wants the money held in reserve.

If every request is approved, the county will add more than 100 jobs to its rolls.

In addition, the partnership's community advisory board is recommending $6.13 million a year for new services such as pre-release case managers, legal aid and inmate re-entry "first stop" centers.

The blueprint also earmarks nearly $2 million for competitive grants to nonprofit community-based organizations that provide inmate transition services. One potential provider is Rubicon Programs, a nearly 40-year-old Richmond organization that helps the poor and homeless.

Among the advisory board's more hot-button proposals are short-term wage and housing subsidies for released felons. The sheriff and district attorney have already said they will oppose the payments, calling them an inappropriate use of the money.

Narrowly passing a budget on a split vote, as the partnership did with its general operation plan last month, isn't an option, either. A supermajority of the Board of Supervisors, or four out of five, must ratify the partnership's budget under county policy.

At least two and possibly a third supervisor have expressed a reluctance to vote for a realignment spending plan that doesn't have the support of the county sheriff, district attorney and probation chief.

Settle your differences and get on with it, urged supervisors John Gioia and Candace Andersen.

"The prisoners are already here and being released into our communities," said Andersen, a former prosecutor from Danville. "We need to respect the expertise of our law enforcement experts and look at tried and true programs that actually work."

On the liberal end of the debate, Gioia stressed compromise.

"Yes, there will be a differences of opinion but the goal is to come up with a balanced approach," said Gioia, who represents Richmond and much of western Contra Costa County. "It makes no sense to spend the money the same (as) we have spent it before and end up with the same bad outcomes."

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com, politicswithlisav.blogspot.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.

FAST FACTS
After California in October 2011 shifted into counties' custody thousands of inmates in a process called "realignment," the state set up a seven-member oversight panel in each county called a Community Corrections Partnership to develop and run the program. In Contra Costa, the members are:
  • Chief Probation Officer Philip Kader, chairman
  • Sheriff-Coroner David Livingston
  • District Attorney Mark Peterson
  • Superior Court Executive Officer Kiri Torre
  • Public Defender Robin Lipetzky
  • Health Services Department Behavioral Health Director Cynthia Belon
  • Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus
    The partnership will meet 8-11:30 a.m. Friday in Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors' chambers, 651 Pine St., in Martinez.