BAKERSFIELD, CA - Kern County is planning to pour more money into agencies dealing with the effects of prison realignment, namely the courts. This comes as Kern County public defenders and prosecutors handle thousands more cases, they say, because of the implementation of AB 109.
The latest statistics from the Kern County Sheriff's Department show the crime rate up again in the first three months of 2013. While homicides are down 57 percent and rapes down 35 percent, burglaries are up seven percent, robberies up 20 percent, auto thefts up 19 percent, and drug arrests are up 65 percent.
That increase in crime has hit the courts. The Kern County Public Defender's Office said its caseload is up more than 17 percent since the implementation of prison realignment in the fall of 2011. The Kern County District Attorney's Office said their felony filings are up nearly 40 percent since December 2012.
"We're just overwhelmed with cases," said District Attorney Lisa Green.
That's why Wednesday, Public Defender Konrad Moore and District Attorney Lisa Green asked the Community Correction Partnership for more state prison realignment funds. The partnership is in charge of dividing up those funds among agencies in the county.
"People have to feel safe in their homes and if they are victimized that their case is taken care of," said Green.
Right now, the District Attorney's Office said its 14 felony attorneys handle an average of 344 cases. This year, Green estimates that caseload will increase to 445 cases per attorney unless more staff is added.
"When there's a car being broken into or house or whatever it is, they expect to have their case handled in a competent professional manner, and it's difficult to do that when you're handling 450 cases per attorney," said Green.
Last year, the District Attorney's Office received $275,145 of the $23 million the county received for realignment funds. On Wednesday, Green asked the Community Corrections Partnership for $1.25 million for an additional ten personnel.
Last year, the Public Defender's Office received no funding for realignment impacts. Public Defender Konrad Moore said his office asked for funding, but their need was determined to be "premature". On Wednesday, Moore asked for half the funding the District Attorney's Office received, $625,000 to hire two additional staff.
"We're bringing in about a fifth more patients with the small number of folks. That really strains our departmental resources," said Moore.
Last year ,Kern County received about $23 million from the state to handle the effects of prison realignment. This year they were given $27 million.
The Community Corrections Partnership decided to divide the additional funds among several agencies as follows for the 2013-2014 fiscal year: $10,942,519.15 to the Sheriff's Department, $9,906,608.65 to the Probation Department, $3,779,399.25 to Mental Health, $382,791.91 to Employer's Training Resources, $1,196,224.71 to the District Attorney's Office, $188,636.99 to the Street Interdiction Team, $760,666.85 to Community Based Organizations, $598,112.36 to the Public Defender's Office, and $37,235.13 to the contingency fund.
However, Kern County is eligible for additional funds from anywhere between $3.4 million to $5.9 million according to the County Administrative Office.
If those additional funds are allocated, each agency receives more money as follows: $11,772,859 to the Sheriff's Department, $10,466,616 to the Probation Department, $3,949,299 to Mental Health, $400,000 to Employer's Training Resources, $1,250,000 to the District Attorney's Office, $625,000 to the Public Defender's Office, $197,326 to the Street Interdiction Team, $794,862 to Community Based Organizations and $38,909 to the contingency fund.
The additional funds won't come until September so until then each department will have to live without, but agencies say they don't spend most of the money up front because the majority of the money is paid out in salaries over the course of the year.
Green said the funding allocated Wednesday is not enough but she'll take it.
"Optimally I'd like another six attorneys to be honest with you so that we could bring caseloads down further and there could be more attention but we're grateful for what we got today and will continue to work hard." she said.
The budget proposal still needs to be approved by the County Board of Supervisors.