Tag Archives: John Conway

AB109 just a revenue source for the county – how’s that working out in your neighborhood?

12 Aug

Well, after that post I made yesterday, including news that Butte County jail is a “COVID hot spot” and my suspicions that they are releasing infected inmates into the community, I found this piece in Cal Matters today:

https://calmatters.org/justice/2020/08/california-prisons-early-release-coronavirus/

Desperate to control the outbreak at California’s overcrowded prisons, state officials opened the gates to thousands of prisoners like Scull, including many before their scheduled release date.

The reporter speaks to an ex-inmate from San Quentin – a guy convicted of carjacking and robbery – who ended up in a motel room in LA. So how many of these people are headed for Chico? And since when is carjacking not a violent crime? 

And like I also suspected, the support and supervision system for these releases is thin to non-existent.

“I had friends out there protesting saying, ‘Let them all out.’ I said, ‘You don’t understand. There’s no system outside that can handle this,’” said Judith Tata, executive director of the California Reentry Program, which provides parole and pre-release services to inmates at San Quentin. “We have people who are transient when they’re arrested. They’re mentally ill, have substance abuse issues and we’re releasing them early to no social services.”

Tata said her program got letters from people in prison asking for help connecting with services on the outside, but by the time they could respond, the men were already out.”

This is how Butte County inmate John Conway ended up along a road outside of Downieville, now accused of shooting three people, one of whom died. 

Butte County needs to stop participating in AB109 transfers.  I wrote a letter to the editor about it – let’s see how long it takes Flash Read to print this one. 

A man who’d been released from Butte County jail is suspect in a Sierra County killing.  Arrested three times over 2019-20, charges including battery, criminal threats and auto theft. Butte County court dismissed charges in two cases. In January the court gave the man a “split sentence” – part jail time and part “community supervision,” despite at least two failures to appear for previous court dates.

Just six months later he appeared along a Sierra County road with a gun, accused of shooting several people, one dead.

Several grand juries have found our jail inadequate. Overcrowding leads to releases, including prisoners sent here through AB109. In 2011  256 “transfers” were sent to Butte County from state prisons, almost half of them under “community supervision”.  A 2014 report said 56% were rearrested, many for new offenses, including “a non-trivial increase in the number of failure to appear charges.”

AB109, The Public Safety Realignment Act, “transfers responsibility to local counties for supervising specified offenders released from State prison.” A 2011 report shows Butte County received over $3,000,000 to initiate the program. In 2015, the county received over $40,000,000 to expand the jail, but earlier this year, the sheriff revealed he has not taken any bids, blaming costs up due to the Camp Fire.

County budget reports show the AB109 money goes almost entirely for salaries and benefits – of $3,145,402, only $838,061 went toward “one time costs,” including “facilities remodeling”.

AB109 seems to be nothing more than a revenue source for the county to pay salaries and benefits.  How’s this working out in your neighborhood?

Juanita Sumner, Chico

The county of Butte shares a horrible guilt in the death of Ari Gershman

12 Jul

Yet another tragedy in the news, a murder committed by a man who had been in the custody of Butte County law enforcement numerous times in the past. He was released just earlier this year on his own recognizance, despite previous Failure to Appear. 

John Conway, the man ID’d by Sierra County officials as the suspect in the killing of a Bay Area man, has a long history in Butte County. He’s had two charges of “Failure to Appear” on separate cases just within the last year. He was out on a warrant, charged with grand theft auto, when he allegedly committed this murder.

I guess you could blame AB 109, the legislation that mandated transfer of “non-violent” criminals from state prisons to local jails. But AB 109 also provided funding for expansion and improvements at local jails to accommodate their new incarcerates. So how come Butte County jail is still releasing prisoners due to overcrowding?

The first item I found on this subject was this report from a 2014 Butte County supervisors’ meeting:

http://buttecounty.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=164&meta_id=27757

Three shelters in Oroville were granted AB 109 funding for housing prisoners released due to overcrowding. They were paid according to how many beds they had, at a rate of $550 per bed per month. That was comparable with what people were paying for a room in a apartment in Chico at the time.

The next item I found was an article from 2015

Butte County agencies commended for AB109 response

Some excerpts:

AB109 has been blamed for a 115 percent increase in “failure to appear” charges in the county, which are charges brought on when defendants miss a court date they promised to appear on.

“A defendant’s unwillingness to return to face charges after agreeing to do so delays justice, generates another case, and results in the issuance of a bench warrant,” according to the report. “This leaves prosecutors unable to dispose of cases in a timely fashion…”

In a “timely fashion” means they waste 10’s of thousands of dollars holding hearings at which the defendant is not present, rescheduling another hearing, yadda yadda yadda. You can hear the cash register ka-chinging all day down there. Taxpayer money folks, these perps don’t pay their own attorneys, the taxpayers pay.

All because they have not fixed the jail like they’ve promised again and again.  For years now, Grand Juries have brought up deficiencies at the jail, recommending remodels and expansions to improve simple stuff like sanitation. But here Sheriff Kory Honea mentions another GJ report condemning poor conditions at the jail. This is 2015, and Honea is citing the recent GJ report in his request for $40 million to expand the jail.

Sheriff Kory Honea said the “excessive” number of failure to appear charges demonstrates a need for a “different kind of correctional facility” in Butte County.

A jail is needed that provides a “sufficient amount of space to keep those people who ultimately have demonstrated time and time again that they refuse to come to court and address these problems,” Honea said.

The Butte County Board of Supervisors in August approved Honea’s request to apply for $40 million in state funding to expand the county jail, according to a previous Enterprise-Record report. The expansion would increase the number of beds for inmates, include a medical clinic and offer space for programs like the sheriff’s alternative custody supervision.

And there it is – in 2015, Butte County Supervisors approved $40 million in state funding, with a $4 million match from the county, to expand the jail. What happened to that? Read this July 3 2020 article from the Enterprise Record.

Grand Jury report reinforces need for Butte County Jail expansion

 “Despite budget challenges, some brought on by the Camp Fire, the Butte County Grand Jury report released last week echoed the urgency for expanding the Butte County Jail beyond its current buildings.”

Oh for Pete’s sake, you’re kidding me!

“The 2019-20 Grand Jury report released June 26 examined the inner-workings of the facility, which has an inmate population that fluctuates between 570 and 590 with a maximum jail capacity of 614. Part of the facility was built in 1963, with additional wings added in 1994 and further renovations occurring in 1999.”

But nothing later than 1999? Even though, “In 2014, through Senate Bill 863, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office received $40 million in grant funding with $4 million being matched by the county. The funds allowed for plans to expand the jail north of the main facility in a separate building, as well as an evidence and morgue building.”

And here’s their excuse – read on – they’re blaming the Camp Fire!

“But when bids went out for the drafted plan, the lowest bid the county received came in at $12 million over budget. The Enterprise-Record reported in December 2019 that part of this was due to the Camp Fire as the cost of construction and supplies went up, in addition to a portion of local labor being pushed out, according to Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.”

They had the money in 2015, but they’re still taking bids in 2019? Where did the money really go? Read this 2014 report from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service http://www.ncjrs.gov

Follow the Money: how California counties are spending their public safety realignment funds (AB109)

Enforcement Cluster 1: Counties that Need More Law Enforcement Resources
Characteristics of counties in enforcement cluster 1: They have a low drug arrest rate, a
low number of law enforcement personnel, and low law enforcement expenditures.
(Coverage: 0.23; Consistency: 0.78)
Counties in this cluster do not have a high rate of drug arrests, and they have not, in
recent times, invested much in law enforcement personnel. They tend to rate below
average on number of full-time law enforcement personnel per resident and law
enforcement expenditures per resident. In other words, they have not heavily focused
economic resources on law enforcement compared to other counties. Thus, they appear
to be using AB 109 funds to strengthen these enforcement apparatuses.
The counties that best fit this characterization are Butte, El Dorado, Kings, Nevada, and
San Benito Counties. Table 3 below displays the relative rank of each of these counties
(out of 58 total counties) on their allocated budgets to Sheriff and Law Enforcement
spending units, alongside their relative ranks on drug arrests, full-time law enforcement
personnel, and change in full-time law enforcement personnel.

So Butte County, ranked No. 6 on the chart, does not fully fund law enforcement. The unfunded actuarial (pension) liability (UAL), for example, is the result of under funding.  Law enforcement has the biggest UAL. According to the report,  the AB 109 money has been going to hire law enforcement personnel, and that means, paying the UAL. 

At the same time they under fund law enforcement, the county board continues to approve “transfers” of mental patients and released prisoners to Butte County “beds” for $550 a day in transfer fees. The transfer money goes to the Butte County Behavioral Health Department. For what? Here’s a hint – the second highest compensated person in Butte County is the head of Behavioral Health, at $240,688/year salary with a $54,138 benefits package. In fact, there are 22 employees in BCBH that make more than $100,000/year in salary, and another 22 that make more than $90,000/year. So,  you can see where the transfer money goes.

And these people don’t go out on the streets to administer to clients – the police and sheriff have to engage them, counsel them, move them along. This is a huge subject of interest in Chico right now, I see people hitting posts here about the transient problem, the crime problem, and the desecration of Bidwell Park and our waterways. I see their posts on other social media. But I don’t know if people are making the funding connection. 

And now this. The County of Butte shares a horrible guilt in the death of Ari Gershman. The Sheriff’s Department has had adequate time and money to expand the jail to meet the demand. The court knew John Conway was a repeat offender with multiple charges of Failure to Appear when he was released on his own recognizance. But when Ari Gershman and his son got in their jeep and headed for a popular off-road vehicle destination, I doubt they knew any of that.