County jail, probation dept. challenged by realignment

Posted on December 7, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

By Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Area Newspapers
Posted Dec 07, 2011 @ 12:05 PM
Siskiyou County, Calif. —

Two months after the state’s public safety realignment plan went into effect,  Siskiyou County is seeing an influx of inmates at a rate faster than expected.

With limited resources at the Siskiyou County Probation Department and a jail that’s constantly at or near capacity, local officials are hiring additional staff and fighting for  state funding to possibly build a larger jail.

When the law went into effect Oct. 1, 2011, Siskiyou County’s chief probation officer Todd Heie was expecting 15 prisoners to be released to the custody of his department by the end of the year.

As of Thursday, he’d received 22 packets for “post-release community supervision” prisoners, or PRCS, that were to be released to Siskiyou by Dec. 31.

With the pace at which the packets have been arriving, Heie expects the number to be even higher by year’s end.

Sheriff Jon Lopey said he expected to receive around 72 PRCS over the next two to three years, but based on the number of packets already received, “It appears we are getting more people than we anticipated.”

Heie said Siskiyou County probation officers already have  caseloads that are “higher than they optimally should be,” and to help compensate for the influx, he recently got approval to hire one more officer who will begin around Jan. 1. He’s also trying to get approval for two probation aids to free up officers to provide added probation supervision.

What realignment does
Realignment shifts responsibility from the state to individual counties for the incarceration, treatment and parole of lower level criminals. The law came primarily as a result of the state’s budget deficit and a US Supreme Court order that requires California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates.

AB 109 applies only to those convicted after Oct. 1 and specifically targets non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offender inmates, such as those convicted of crimes related to property, public order, drugs and domestic violence. Sex offenders like recently convicted Kody Kaplon and William Bracken as well as attempted murder cases like Arnold Maynard Aggas will still spend their time in state prisons.

While 30,000 to 40,000 PRCS will be released to the state’s 58 counties over the next five years, AB 109 also changes the definition of a felony, so those sentenced to less than 16 months in custody will spend their time in county jails rather than state prisons such as High Desert or San Quentin.

Challenges for Siskiyou
Heie said his department has done their own risk assessments on each person for which they’ve received a packet – the packet comes about 30 days before release – and has identified almost each one as a high-risk parolee. While the PRCS are coming out on non-violent charges, the majority have a serious infraction in their past and pose a high risk of recidivism, he said.

According to statistics from Governor Jerry Brown’s office, approximately seven out of every 10 inmates paroled in California commit a new crime within three years –  a recidivism rate which is well above national average.

The Siskiyou County Jail has 107 beds, with three designated for medical use, Lopey explained. The majority of  its inmates are pre-trial felons, which leaves little room for those who would serve jail time instead of prison time if they violate their parole.

At this time, nine such parolees are serving time in Siskiyou County Jail, Heie said.

Those who commit misdemeanors are regularly cited then sent home to await their court date.

Though he knows it will be a challenge, Heie said “the sky isn’t falling” and with the additional probation officer, his department – which is already used to heavy caseloads – will be able to handle the influx.

“This is a significant burden for local county jails traditionally shouldered by state parole and the state prison system,” Lopey said.

Realignment also means alternate sentencing programs will need to be expanded, such as substance abuse, anger management, parenting, education and re-entry programs.

To formulate a plan for realignment and to allocate state funding to the appropriate departments and organizations, the Siskiyou County Community Corrections Partnership has been formed. Voting members include District Attorney Kirk Andrus, Judge Laura Masunaga, Public Defender Lael Kayfetz, Director of Social Services Michael Noda, Weed Police Chief Martin Nicholas, Lopey and Heie.

At this time, an exact plan has not been approved.

New jail?
Lopey is concerned that if things continue as they have been, even with effective alternative sentencing programs, the current jail will be inadequate.

Across California, counties have been struggling with the influx of parolees. There are reports of inmates having to sleep on jail floors until beds are available in Orange County. In Fresno County, parole violators are no longer being jailed in order to avoid overcrowding, and Los Angeles County is projecting that its more than 22,000 jail beds could be full within a few months.

To prevent complications like these, Lopey has been pursuing grant funding for a new jail.

On Thursday, Lopey said  Siskiyou County has been selected to compete for the next phase of AB 900 jail funding. An application will be submitted to the Corrections Standards Authority in January, and if approved, a new jail would be built within three or four years.

“A new jail… would increase our jail bed capacity to meet realignment and all other facility requirements for 20 to 30 years,” Lopey said.

– By Jaime Gentner and Skye Kinkade

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