2011-04-06 “Budget Cuts Would Disproportionately Affect Incarcerated Women for Now” by Ali Bollbach
Ali Bollbach is an intern in the Yolo Judicial Watch Court Project.
Last week, during the Yolo County Board of Supervisors meeting, representatives from the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office, and Public Defender’s Office gave presentations on their cost cutting techniques employed in the past and proposed plans for the future.
Up until recently there was hope that Governor Jerry Brown’s previous budged cut proposal would allow the Yolo County Leinberger Memorial center, a minimum security facility in Woodland, to remain partially open. However, due to the increased likelihood that an agreement will not be made by June and the impact of a lack of any agreement even as early as July 1st, new measures must be taken.
During the last three fiscal years, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department has cut forty-two positions through layoffs and declining to rehire empty positions. They have also employed a more recent trend in the job market, that of utilizing unpaid positions.
At the meeting Sheriff Edward Prieto laid down the law, and said there was “absolutely no way we can lay off any more deputies.”
The proposal by Prieto and his department to shut down the already partially closed minimum-security facility appeared to be a last ditch effort to prepare for the worst-case scenario if no state budget is approved.
The current fiscal year saw a partial closure of Leinberger Memorial Center and despite original estimates that the center would be safe from the chopping block, the most recent meeting revealed this was not so. The department estimated that the proposal to close the center fully would save them about 1.7 million dollars a year. But at what cost?
As it stands Leinberger Memorial Center is geared for inmates wanting to work with outside agencies to reduce their jail time. It also acts as an overflow facility for the Monroe Detention Center. Currently only about 35 males are housed in the Leinberger Memorial Center due to the partial closure earlier this fiscal year.
While other news sources have mentioned the potential hazard to society that closing the center would pose because of the release of some inmates due to the lack of room, few have yet to consider the adverse gender implications such a closure would have.
If closed, the men housed at the Leinberger Memorial Center and the Monroe Detention Center would go through a process of triage. Those with the worst offenses and most serious crimes would be retained while those with lesser crimes would be released due to the lack of space. But what about the women?
None of the women in the facility would go through the triage process necessitated from the closure because there are no women being housed at the Leinberger Memorial Center.
Thus it is very possible that some men in custody could be released, while women detained, even though it is very likely some of the men could be considered more dangerous criminals than some of women in Monroe, simply because of their gender. How is this legal?
When I spoke with the Sheriff’s Department about this triage procedure negatively affecting women more than the men currently housed at the Monroe Detention Center, I was reminded that state law requires male and female areas to be fully separated.
This means that women in this triage procedure are being held for less dangerous criminal activity than some of men who are being released. Women would be adversely targeted for the specific reason that they are women.
I was reminded, though, that there have been times when this was the opposite. Apparently not all is fair when following strict federal laws, as a more gender-neutral approach would focus solely on the severity of crimes committed.
While it would be ideal in this instance for the detention center to be a bit more fluid regarding the number of men versus women it can house at a given time and still follow federal law, it is federal law that mandates the separation between the genders that currently makes this impossible.
But how else will this closure affect inmates and Yolo County as a whole? Tracie Olson, one of the many Yolo County public defenders gave her opinion of how the closure would affect her clients’ choices at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
Olson spoke of inmates waiting to hear back from various residential treatment programs as a viable option instead of jail time who benefit from remaining in the detention centers.
She argued the detention centers offer a safe environment for inmates to abstain from illegal substances, which in the long run helps them to succeed overall. Without room at the center for such offenders, due to the proposed closure, some would be more likely to run into illegal situations hurting their chances of recovery.
Similarly clients interested in work-study programs, when applicable, instead of serving jail times when applicable would not be as interested in putting forth the effort of participating in such a program if they could be released from jail quicker.
She noted, “Honestly telling my clients to serve 30 or 90 days [or participate in work project], I’d tell them to go serve in the jail and you’d be out by Monday. No reason to sign up for work project.”
While closing the Leinberger Memorial Center would alleviate some of the current budget problems, the detriment to an already vulnerable population would be irreparable.
Hopefully some of the future proposals will take these consequences into account.