Fresno jail protesters call for more rehabilitation programs

FRESNO, Calif.

This protest outside the Fresno County Jail was aimed at getting the attention of the Board of Supervisors. Under legislation called AB 109 board members will have discretion in how to spend state realignment funds.

The protesters want less of the money spent on jailing people and more on rehabilitating them.

"Many people have been caught up in the system because they have mental illness, or because they have drug addiction and AB109 calls for using evidence based programs that can deal with those, solve those, and get them back on their feet," Pam Whalen of the ACLU said.

Realignment under AB 109 is designed to keep low-level offenders out of the state prison system. But so far realignment has created crowding at the cash strapped Fresno County Jail.

The first thing AB109 money will likely do is open a closed floor of the jail. County Supervisor Henry Perea believes more jail space is needed first.

"We have money in the budget now to open another jail floor and I believe we will," Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea said.

In a written statement to Action News Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said "our most immediate need is jail beds."

She adds that rehabilitation programs are underway but said jail beds are needed so "offenders know there are consequences if they do not complete the programs."

Perea sees the age old argument between punishment and rehabilitation dividing the board of Supervisors.

"I think there's some folks that may think rehab programs are not the way to go. Others think it might be and I think that's the way the debate is going to be," Perea said.

Whalen is hoping it's time to end the lock 'em up and throw away the key mentality.

"We've been doing that for 30 years and its not working and its bankrupting the state," Whalen said.

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