State cuts threaten vital programs

Potential cuts to the state budget could strip San Mateo County’s most vulnerable residents of vital services and further tax the region’s overburdened jails, local leaders are warning.

The $145 billion budget, which is entering the second month of a legislative stalemate, threatens to slash support for mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation services that keep nonviolent offenders out of San Mateo County’s crowded jails, San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie said.

Maltbie has appealed to the state Legislature to protect two programs in particular — the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Grant program and Proposition 36.

The grant program has been used by San Mateo County officials to fund Pathways for Women, a program that offers mental health services to 35 female offenders. County officials say protecting the anticipated $705,532 in grant money for fiscal year 2007-08 is among their highest priorities.

“Pathways keeps women out of jail and ultimately out of state prison,” Deputy County Manager Mary McMillan said. “The state talks about prison reform — well, here’s a program that’s actually working, putting people back into society and into more fulfilling lives.”

Proposition 36, passed by voters in 2000, changed state law to allow some nonviolent drug offenders to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration. Under the state Assembly version of the budget, approved recently, local funding for Proposition 36 would be slashed by 22 percent, or $550,000.

“You’re essentially closing a door and turning them back to the criminal justice system as the only option,” McMillan said.

Funding to help protect local seniors is also at risk, San Mateo County Health Department spokeswoman Beverly Thames said. A proposed $12 million in supplemental funds offered for California counties’ adult protective services may be cut from the budget. County officials expect their elder abusecaseload to increase due to a recent bill by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, which requires banking institutions to report financial abuse of seniors.

San Mateo officials are also concerned that the budget would financially reward counties that sent their juvenile offenders to state facilities instead of offering services locally.

Supervisor Jerry Hill said preserving San Mateo County’s programs for mentally ill, juvenile and substance abusing offenders is critical to stemming recidivism and mitigating the county’s jail overcrowding problem, which has been the subject of scathing grand jury reports.

tbarak@examiner.com

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