County Jails Maxed Out Due to New State Law

Posted on January 11, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Reported by: KPSP Local 2 News Services

1/6/12

Riverside County’s jails are on the verge of reaching maximum capacity because of the influx of low-level inmates from state prisons, sheriff’s officials said Friday.

The county’s 3,906 jail beds are 99 percent occupied, and the resulting overflow of inmates will leave the Sheriff’s Department little choice but to start releasing some offenders before their sentences are served, Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez noted that the county’s five jails now house 735 prisoners whose felony convictions met the criteria set by Assembly Bill 109.

The law states individuals convicted of crimes that fall into the non-violent, non-serious, non-sexually oriented category, and whose principal offense results in a sentence of three years or less, are to be incarcerated in county jails.

AB 109 led to a 20 percent jump over the last three months in the number of convicted felons being sentenced to time in county jail, sheriff’s officials said.

The governor and various lawmakers pushed AB 109 as part of his “realignment” strategy, which involved shifting more state responsibilities onto counties. Supporters argued it would lead to greater efficiencies, but opponents countered that already burdened local resources would be stretched to the limit.

Gutierrez said a federal court order requires that every inmate in a local jail has a bed.

To avoid overcrowding, sheriff’s officials will have to exercise alternative measures, “such as electronic ankle bracelet monitoring, return parole violators to the supervision of parole, and early release of some lover-level inmates.”

The state has allocated the county $24 million in the current fiscal year to cover costs stemming from the new law.

But most public safety officials don’t believe that will be enough, and doubts linger as to whether adequate funding will be made available in the future given the state’s unending budgetary red ink.

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