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Supreme Court: State Responsible for Disabled Parolees In County Jails

June 9, 2014
Source: Times-Standard Local News

County sheriff calls decision "fair and just"

Local officials applauded the U.S. Supreme Court decision today to let a lower court ruling stand that found California bears responsibility for nearly 2,000 disabled parolees housed in county jails.

The decision could leave state taxpayers liable for problems at some of the jails, said Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The high court did not comment as it declined to consider the appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown of a January 2012 decision by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland.

She ruled that state prison officials failed to monitor and protect former inmates who were returned to county jails instead of state prisons for parole violations under a now 3-year-old state law.

That law keeps most parole violators and lower-level offenders in county jails instead of state prisons in response to federal court orders requiring the state to reduce the prison population. Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey called the decision "fair and just."

"The counties are ill equipped to deal with some of the more serious conditions these inmates have," Downey said. "I think there is a lot of hidden costs that come along with AB 109. And here, you have an example. For the counties, you have to be responsible with issues that would quickly bankrupt them."

The ruling in the parolee case was upheld last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite objections by the state.

"We believe that the lower court impinged upon rights of a state to delegate responsibilities to local governments," Callison said.

The state penal code says parole violators in county jails are under county jurisdictions, he said, but "the federal court decided that did not matter, that they were still ultimately state parolees."

That could make the state financially responsible for providing jailed parolees with the accommodations to which they are entitled under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

"The state could be theoretically liable for conditions in buildings that it does not operate or own," Callison said. He said there is no way to determine the potential cost because individual parolees would have to sue and force changes.

Humboldt County Sheriff office Compliance Officer Duane Christian said the county jail is currently equipped under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but does not currently have any disabled inmates.

"The last one I received was on March 18, and that individual is no longer in custody," Christian said. "At this time we do not have any, to the best of my knowledge."

Several counties are now being sued over conditions similar to those that led the federal courts to order the population reduction.

Michael Bien, an attorney representing parolees in the case, said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling merely requires the state to keep doing what it has been doing for the past year.

Based on the original order by Wilkin, the state sends an email to jail officials disclosing if the parolee needs a wheelchair, for instance, or is blind or deaf. Parole agents will also provide jailed parolees with a grievance form so they can complain if their needs are not met.

"We have not asked, nor has the court ordered, anyone to retrofit a county jail to comply with the court order," Bien said. "This is the same kind of "the sky is falling" argument that the state has been raising again and again."

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