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Plan Would Ease Stress on Overcrowded County Prisons, Also Ease Stress on Overburdened Airline Passengers

"We think people will appreciate 'That human touch.'"

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NERVOUSLY CLUTCHING CARRY-ON, SAN DIEGO AIRPORT - Ever since California's move last spring to transfer thousands of convicts from state supervision to county oversight, local prison officials have been scrambling to find new ways to house and engage the the suddenly swollen ranks of their prison populations.

The newest plan, issued by the County Board of Supervisors, calls for finding ways to let non-violent, non-sexual offenders serve time outside of jail, in the community. "Overcrowding is a problem, obviously," said Scott Stipplebaum, head of County Correctional Catering Services. "Suddenly, we've got 800 beds for 2,000 prisoners. You don't want to think about that for too long."

But, says Stipplebaum, "an even bigger concern is funding. "How am I supposed to feed 2,000 prisoners on a budget designed for 800? I'm not Jesus; I can't multiply the loaves and fishes. Not that I can afford fish in the first place."

That budgetary strain is presumably what led the Board of Supervisors to contract with the San Diego Port District to replace the San Diego Airport's Smarte Cart luggage carriers with the aforementioned "non-violent, non-sexual offenders." "For just $2," said Stipplebaum, "travelers can hire a 'Prison Porter' to carry their bags from curb to counter or baggage claim to parking lot, no tip required. There are even plans underway to set up a special security line for Porters handling carry-ons, so that passengers can enjoy hands-free movement throughout their airport experience. It's wonderful to see government do something right for a change."

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