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Steinberg: More Money for Mentally Ill Offenders, Time to Address CalSTRS Liability

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) discusses his proposal to help reduce the reoffender rate for mentally ill criminals in Sacramento Thursday.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

$50 Million for Mentally Ill Offenders

California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) says it’s time to restart a grant program intended to reduce the recidivism rate of mentally ill criminals in county jails.  It’s a program he says succeeded for a decade before falling victim to budget cuts five years ago.

“It’s become a cliché now,” Steinberg told reporters at the Capitol Thursday.  “The single largest mental health facility in the country is the LA County jail.  And you could say similar things about the jails throughout the state.  That’s failure first, as opposed to help first.”

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson says the program helped his county in previous years – and hopes it will again.  “We have to be able to provide adequate and appropriate resources to people who need help, and get them out of the criminal justice system by working together to break cycles of addiction and violence,” Christianson says.

Steinberg says he’ll introduce legislation that would set aside $50 million dollars in competitive grants for counties.

Start Saving CalSTRS in 2014

Also on Thursday, Steinberg threw his support behind the California State Teachers Retirement System’s persistent plea for the legislature to stop ignoring a $70 billion dollar unfunded liability.

“I think we need to begin addressing the CalSTRS problem this year, yes.  I think that ought to be a priority,” he says.

Steinberg’s comment came as a welcome surprise to the retirement system.  CalSTRS’ Gretchen Zeagler says unless the state increases contribution rates, the system will run out of money within three decades.

“For some time now, almost the past 10 years, CalSTRS has been sounding this alarm, because as more time goes by, the costs and the risks to the state’s general fund continue to grow.” Zeagler says.

CalSTRS says it needs an additional $4.5 billion a year immediately to deal with the system’s current unfunded liability.  It would be up to the legislature to decide where the increased contributions would come from – the state budget, school districts or school employees.

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