Money collected from county jail inmates for commissary purchases and telephone calls is generally well-managed and spent but withholdings for medical and dental visits have been deposited in the wrong fund, according to the civil grand jury.
The jury issued a report Tuesday on the inmate welfare trust fund which was generally positive but noted that the county could better outline where that revenue is spent and consider participating in a pilot program allowing the money to cover re-entry assistance.
The jury also found that the $3 charged inmates for requested medical and dental appointments are being placed in the welfare fund rather than the county general fund as mandated by the state penal code. For fiscal year 2013-14, that total was $13,352.
Sheriff Greg Munks said he was unaware of that code and is now waiting to learn if anyone in the office knew. Munks said a fix might just be a matter of setting aside that money in the future but he questions once it goes into the general fund does it go to the Health System or elsewhere and can it be appropriated back to the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office uses the fund to buy recreation items like televisions and stand-alone computers, operate the library system and provide a variety of inmate services like education, drug and alcohol treatment and accounting.
The grand jury concluded the county could better delineate how the fund money is spent to ensure it isn’t used on services not allowed by the penal code which limits it to inmates and not released individuals. Eleven counties participate in a pilot program allowing inmate welfare funds to be spent on re-entry needs but San Mateo County is not among them.
Munks said the county spends $200,000 from the sheriff’s general fund on a Service League contract to provide those needs so joining the pilot wouldn’t offer much advantage.
Last month, Munks gave the Board of Supervisors an annual report on the fund which showed that inmates spent more than $1.9 million the previous fiscal year which is part of an ongoing spending decline.
Grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients must respond in writing within 90 days.
The full report can be found at www.sanmateocourt.org/grandjury.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102