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


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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Parolee charged in strangulation of 21-year-old Huntington Beach woman

Posted on January 11, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Uncategorized |

Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/10/2012 11:13:01 AM PST
Ean Keith Brown, who was freed from prison and on parole for burglary, was living in the vehicle in a driveway in the 8300 block of Danbury Circle, Huntington Beach Capt. Russell Reinhart said. (Google Map)

HUNTINGTON BEACH – A 38-year-old parolee was charged today with strangling a 21-year-old woman in a recreational vehicle parked in his parents’ driveway in Huntington Beach over the weekend.

Ean Keith Brown was charged with murder and faces sentencing enhancement allegations for two “strike” convictions and serious felony convictions for second-degree robbery in 1995 and burglary in 2008, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Brown, who was freed from prison and on parole for burglary, was living in the vehicle in a driveway in the 8300 block of Danbury Circle, Huntington Beach Capt. Russell Reinhart said.

The victim, Dolores “Arias” Fagan, 21, was living with relatives in the same block, according to prosecutors. The last time they saw her was when she left home about 5 p.m. Friday.

Brown is suspected of strangling Fagan in the vehicle between Friday and Sunday and leaving the body wrapped in a blanket, according to prosecutors.

Brown’s parents called police just after noon Sunday and asked them to check the vehicle, Reinhart said. Police found the body inside the vehicle, but Brown was not there.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies and the California Highway Patrol began a chase of Brown about 4 p.m. Sunday on the northbound Ontario (15) Freeway, Reinhart said. Police caught up to Brown and arrested him just short of the border with Nevada, Reinhart said.

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State convicts arrive in L.A. County with costly mental illnesses

Posted on January 9, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Newly released state prisoners are arriving in Los Angeles and other counties with incomplete medical records and mental illnesses that have officials struggling to provide treatment.

By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times

9:16 PM PST, January 8, 2012

As California begins shifting supervision of thousands of newly released state prisoners to local probation agencies, ex-convicts are arriving with incomplete medical records and more serious mental illnesses than anticipated. And mental health officials are scrambling to provide appropriate — and often costly — treatment.

“At the start, every day … there was a crisis,” said Dr. Marvin Southard, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “There was somebody we didn’t know what to do with.”

In some cases, he said, released inmates have had to be immediately transferred to hospitals or residential centers for psychiatric care.

A new state law designed to reduce prison crowding and cut costs requires that certain nonviolent convicts serve their time in county lockups rather than state prisons. It also makes counties — rather than the state parole agency — responsible for supervising such inmates after their release.

The transition, called “realignment” by Gov. Jerry Brown, has raised well-publicized concerns among law enforcement officers across the state, as they try to accommodate more inmates in already crowded local jails. But realignment also presents less-visible challenges for local probation and mental health officials dealing with an influx of patients with drug and alcohol addictions, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

Mental illness and drug addiction are common in California prisons, where more than half of inmates report a recent mental health problem and two-thirds report having a drug abuse problem, according to a Rand Corp. study. Many don’t receive the treatment they need while incarcerated and may skip care once released, said the study’s author, Lois Davis.

“If you have individuals struggling with depression and anxiety … they are going to have a much harder time linking to services,” she said. “It limits their ability to find a job and reunite with their family, and they will be at greater risk for recidivism.”

Roughly 3,300 people have been released to Los Angeles County so far. The probation department is expecting about 6,000 more. County mental health officials estimated that about 30% will require mental health services and about 60% will have drug addictions.

Continuing treatment after inmates are freed is essential to preventing them from relapsing, having mental breakdowns, ending up in hospitals or landing back behind bars, officials said.

“We took it very seriously from the start,” said Reaver Bingham, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. “We knew that if we didn’t address those risk factors, people would revert to what they know, and that is committing criminal activity.”

Realignment, which began Oct. 1, has been bumpy. Many released inmates came without comprehensive medical records. It was up to the patients to pass along information about their diagnoses and medications to probation and mental health staffers. When county workers requested mental health records from the state, they often were told to get the information from individual prisons.

Communication has improved, but getting complete medical and mental health records remains difficult, officials said. One complication: Prisoners can block the transfer of records.

“A lot of it depends on the inmates’ attitude at the point of the release — do they want to be treated more or to be left alone?” said Don Kingdon, deputy director of the California Mental Health Directors Assn.

Kingdon stressed the importance of counties having complete information on prisoners before they are released to local supervision. “That can create a problem in the community if they release prisoners and they have mental health needs and you didn’t know,” he said.

California prison officials “made a whole lot of effort to make the [transition] be as smooth as possible,” said Denny Sallade, deputy director of the state’s Division of Correctional Health Care Services. But inmates may be in one mental state when they leave the prison and another when they arrive in the community, often because they stop taking their medication along the way, she noted.

The inmates also may turn down help once they arrive. In Los Angeles County, about 30% of the released state inmates seen by mental health staff refused to either meet with clinicians or be referred for treatment.

Bingham, of the probation department, said the state has tried to address problems. “If we can be successful in Los Angeles County, we can be successful in the rest of the state,” he said.

But county officials are warning there may not be enough resources to accommodate former inmates in need of supervision. The state allocated $18 million to Los Angeles County to pay for mental health and substance abuse treatment and other social services. But the money isn’t guaranteed to continue past June.

“Supervisor Mike Antonovich is very concerned about the inadequacy of realignment funding to effectively rehabilitate this population, which includes costly mental health services, housing and supervision,” said his justice deputy, Anna Pembedjian. “It all boils down to resources.”

Los Angeles, like most counties around the state, is already stretched thin after years of budget cuts and may not be equipped to close gaps in health and social services for the newly released inmates, said Davis, of Rand. To help defray some costs, counties across the state are working to enroll the eligible released prisoners in public programs such as Medi-Cal.

Counties are at the very early stages of understanding how to make realignment work, especially for those former inmates with mental illness, Davis said. “It is going to be a challenging time for the next couple years,” she said.

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Man Convicted of Sex with Chihuahua Must Register on Sex Offender List

Posted on December 30, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Courts, Crime, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Sam Cohen

FOX40 News

2:26 PM PST, December 23, 2011


A Sacramento man convicted of having sex with a Chihuahua will have to register on the sex offender registry.

Robert Edward De Shields was sentenced to ten years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration.

De Shields, who is confined to a wheelchair, was renting a living space from a South Sacramento family who had an 8-month-old Chihuahua mix.

A family member came home in March to find De Shields holding the dog, who looked scared. The next day, the dog went missing and was later found with De Shields in the garage, this time in pain and shock.

A veterinary check determined the dog had severe injuries to its rectum and internal organs.

De Shields was convicted last month of strangulation and sexual assault on a Chihuahua. He was taking meth at the time of the attack.


Robert De Shields was convicted in November of sexual assault of a dog belonging to a family he was living with.

According to the DA’s Office, De Shields has not been out of custody for more than five months in the last 19 to 20 years.

The sentence of lifetime registration on the sex offender list may seem odd in an animal cruelty case, however the District Attorney says it means De Shields’ sentence will now be served at a state prison. Without the imposition of the sex offender registry, he would have served the ten year sentence at a county jail because of California’s recent realignment plan.


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Probation reports on realignment; concerns raised for public safety

Posted on December 19, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Written by Elizabeth Larson
Thursday, 15 December 2011
LAKEPORT, Calif. – County supervisors this week received an update on the state’s correctional realignment and what it means for Lake County, with the county’s acting chief probation officer warning of serious health and safety implications for community residents. 

On Tuesday, acting Chief Probation Officer Steve Buchholz gave a report to the Board of Supervisors on realignment, which includes supervising new probationers and housing in the county jail prisoners who formerly would have served their time in state prison.


The state’s correctional realignment, which went into effect Oct. 1, is meant to reduce the state’s prison overcrowding, as well as to save the cash-strapped state money.


Buchholz was accompanied by staff from BI Incorporated, the company hired by the county to help monitor the new probationers and run a day reporting center at 1375 Hoyt Ave. in Lakeport.


That center will require offenders to comply with ongoing reporting, intensive treatment and training, testing for drug and alcohol use, and classes to change criminal thinking, according to a report from the company.


So far, 23 people have been released under Lake County Probation’s supervision, said Buchholz.


The state sent Buchholz’s office 51 information packets on probationers – including the 23 already released – with his staff completing assessments on 40 of those individuals, he said.


Buchholz shared his concern with the board that offenders being released were incorrectly categorized by the state as “nonviolent.”


In fact, 90 percent of those slated for release into the community are “high risk” offenders, Buchholz said. Only one is low risk, and three are moderate risk.


One of those slated for release has two contagious diseases and a history of violence against law enforcement. Buchholz said that individual was of such concern that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation actually called Lake County Probation to warn them about him.


Buchholz said state officials told his staff, “When this guy gets off the bus he’s going to be looking for victims.”


That subject is now sitting in another county’s jail after an existing warrant on him was found. However, Buchholz said the man could still be dropped off in Lake County.


Another individual brought to the county under realignment came from a secure housing unit at the state prison level. Within 48 hours of arriving in the county, he was using drugs and causing problems. Buchholz said he’s since been moved into residential treatment.


These so-called “nonviolent offenders,” said Buchholz, “are in fact, for the most part, a serious risk to our community.”


In addition to those probationers now under monitoring, Buchholz said here are 14 people who have been sentenced to county jail who formerly would have gone to state prison.


All 14 have been sentenced to straight jail time – not a split sentence where part is spent on supervision, he said. A 15th case currently is in court where the judge and attorneys have agreed it will be a split sentence, with four years in county jail and four years of supervision.


Regarding parolees who violated their release terms, Buchholz said 54 such individuals have been booked into the Lake County Jail since Oct. 1.


Formerly, they would have been sent back to state prison for a time, but now they will serve their sentence for parole violation in the county jail, he said.


Among the new responsibilities being handled by Lake County Probation, Buchholz said his staff now is expected to help with transporting prisoners from the prison system, a task that he said can be very time consuming.


He said some of those coming from prison have severe mental and physical health issues, and will impact the county’s mental health and public health resources.


Buchholz said eight of the 23 individuals released into the county so far are transient and homeless.


“That’s another issue that we’re fighting,” he said.


Concerns about needs exceeding resources


He said 18 of those released have been in enrolled in BI Incorporated’s day reporting center, which has a total of 50 slots.


Buchholz said he is very concerned about those numbers. He predicted that the day reporting center’s 50 slots, as well as the 50 slots in the Jail Employment Education Program that BI Inc. will oversee at the Lake County Jail, could quickly fill up and be exceeded by the need resulting from the realignment.


“Virtually every day something new comes up,” he said of the time-consuming experience in adjusting to realignment. “This is a learning experience for everyone, even those at the state level.”


BI Incorporated officials told the board they had hired six of eight new staff members locally, would begin seeing clients on Thursday and planned to hire two additional staffers for a satellite office to be opened in Clearlake in January.


They reported seeing a high number of individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues, and in response to a large number of American Indian clients have hired Pomo tribal member Thomas Brown to work with them.


Buchholz predicted the county would have 71 parolees under its supervision by the end of the fiscal year, which occurs June 30. Another 80 to 90 individuals who would have gone to prison likely will end up serving their time in the Lake County Jail.


“As time goes on it’s the proverbial snowball,” he said.


Supervisor Anthony Farrington asked why BI Incorporated’s facilities were located in Lakeport and not in Clearlake. Buchholz said they couldn’t find a suitable place in Clearlake, and saved money by having them locate in a county building in Lakeport.


Farrington said he guessed their caseload would be higher in the Northshore and Clearlake areas. Buchholz replied that 57 percent of the caseload of those under supervision live in the area from Middletown to Clearlake Oaks, with the rest of the county home to the other 43 percent.


He also reported that two people who were to be released in the county did not report to Lake County Probation as required. Buchholz said they were “in the wind.”


Supervisor Rob Brown pointed to a recent case where a parolee in another county was released as part of the realignment, only to kill someone shortly afterward.


Buchholz acknowledged that there are some extremely dangerous and violent people being released. He said he doesn’t expect some of those people to respond to the local programs in place to deal with them, but he said some will make positive changes.


Supervisor Denise Rushing asked BI Incorporated about measures that work, and they offered a brief overview of using evidence-based risk needs assessments to do targeted interventions.


Brown was unconvinced. “I don’t want to belabor this, because I think we all know what a disaster this is.”


He said convicts have chosen to be where they are. “We’re wasting resources on something that will be a miserable failure at the end of the day,” he said.


Supervisor Jeff Smith said he appreciated what Lake County Probation was trying to do, and he hopes it works.


Buchholz said he thinks there will be some successes as well as failures, adding that the money the state has allocated to the county for realignment – which he said in a previous interview with Lake County News was about $840,000 – won’t be even close to what is needed.


Brown condemned the realignment, which he predicted the public will tire of quickly.


“The public is much less safe as a result of it,” he said.

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CA parolee back on parole despite lewd gestures

Posted on December 15, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Parole, Politics, Prisons |

The Associated Press
Posted: 12/13/2011 04:56:37 PM PST
Updated: 12/13/2011 04:56:37 PM PST

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—A California inmate is back on medical parole despite committing lewd acts days after he was first released in November.

Fifty-six-year-old Peter Post was sent to a San Diego-area long-term care facility Nov. 3 after he was found to be permanently physically incapacitated after a brain injury. Post, who was in prison for burglary, was returned to a secure medical facility a week later after exposing himself and committing a sex act in front of female nurses.

Corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said Tuesday that parole officials decided Post still meets medical parole criteria. He was sent back to the private facility last week.

She says parole officials “looked at whether he had the mental capacity to understand the consequences of his actions.”

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California’s county jails struggle to house influx of state prisoners

Posted on December 12, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Courts, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Los Angeles Times

Published Friday, Dec. 09, 2011

LOS ANGELES — The early release of inmates in some parts of California is accelerating as officials at county jails struggle to accommodate state prisoners flowing into their facilities.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department planned to begin releasing about 150 inmates Friday because of overcrowding in county jails.

Sheriff Rod Hoops has decided to release the inmates, mostly parole violators or those convicted of nonviolent crimes, over the next five days. The inmates must have served at least half of their sentence, and have less than 30 days remaining on their sentence.

The move is a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the state to lower its prison population by 30,000. To meet the mandate, those convicted of certain crimes who until now served their sentences in state prison now must serve their time in a county jail. No inmates are being moved from state prisons to county jails. But as these people are sentenced, they will be sent to a county jail rather than state prison.

San Bernardino is believed to be the largest county to start early releases since the so-called prisoner realignment began. Kern County made a similar move last month.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is hoping to deal with the influx of state prisoners by developing alternatives to custody – such as electronic monitoring – for low-risk offenders awaiting trial.

L.A. County’s jails are expected to house as many as 8,000 state prisoners by mid-2012. Los Angeles County prosecutors said in a report that the numbers could fill up the jails as early as this month.

But sheriff’s officials said they don’t expect capacity to be reached until summer at the earliest.

“I don’t know what the turning point is going to be, but I don’t think the sky is going to fall,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Chief Alex Yim. “We are looking for a measured amount of growth in the jail population. So we are ramping up programs like electronic monitoring and work release now.”

Up until now, San Bernardino County managed to keep its jails from overcrowding through work release and other programs. But with the system rapidly approaching capacity, the sheriff opted to make more room for new arrestees and higher-priority inmates.

The parole violators being released will have their criminal and custody history examined, and they will be placed under the supervision of state parole officers.

Some counties, including Los Angeles, are under court order to prevent jail overcrowding. So officials said that some inmates will be released to make way for the state prisoners.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has warned that none of the alternatives is ideal. Hutchens said, for example, that she’s unsure how many inmates can be trusted to serve time wearing GPS-monitored bracelets.

So far, some counties – including Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino – have reported receiving significantly more state prisoners from courts than the state projected.

State officials and some sheriffs believe the higher-than-projected number of state prisoners being sent to jails has occurred in part because defense attorneys waited until realignment took effect to settle their clients’ cases. By doing that, the attorneys were assured that their clients would get jail time instead of prison time.

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Inmates set to be freed

Posted on December 12, 2011. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Prison realignment leading to overcrowding
Mike Cruz, Staff Writer
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 12/08/2011 07:43:30 PM PST
Updated: 12/09/2011 06:33:41 PM PST

One-hundred-fifty parole violators could get an early release from county jails in the next several days so deputies can handle jail overcrowding that the Sheriff’s Department says is due to state prison-realignment plans.The county inmates will be released from today through Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Department announced late Thursday in a news release.

Those inmates who are released will fall under the immediate supervision of state parole officers, who are under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

County jails have experienced a rise in inmates since the prison realignment began Oct. 1, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

A wide range of criminals, who would have served their sentences in state custody, now remain in the sheriff’s custody to serve their sentences. Additionally, a number of parole violators who would have served their time in state prison are also in county custody.

“Because of these dynamics, the county jail system is rapidly approaching capacity, and it has therefore become necessary to adjust the inmate population in such a way that room is made for new arrestees and higher-priority inmates,” the news release states.

Early release will be granted only to those parole violators who have already served at least half of their sentence and have less than 30 days remaining.

Other criteria being considered are the inmates’ criminal history and their conduct while in custody.

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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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Realignment May Reduce Inmate Firefighting Program

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

In the next year or two, the state may see a reduction of 1,500 inmates who work on firefighting crews

By Shirah Matsuzawa
|  Tuesday, Dec 6, 2011  |  Updated 9:15 PM PST

An effort to satisfy a state mandate requiring counties to take on more state prisoners to reduce prison overcrowding could have a drastic impact on the California’s inmate firefighting program.

In the next year or two, the state may see a reduction of 1,500 inmates who work on firefighting crews, as less serious offenders serve time in county lockups instead of state prisons.

It’s the first time officials have said how many inmate firefighters might be lost to the realignment.

California’s inmate firefighting program is the largest in the nation. Fire crews perform 2.5 million hours of emergency response work per year, according to Cal Fire Spokesperson Daniel Berlant.

Currently, there are between 4,300 and 4,500 inmates who participate in the program, Berlant said.

In Los Angeles County alone, there are five camps.

The Sheriff’s Department has opted to take over the five LA County camps.

“It is our goal to maintain this valuable public safety program for the citizens of the County and we do not want to see it disappear,” said Nicole Nishida, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s media relations representative.

But most sheriffs say their counties can’t afford the $46.19 a day the state plans to charge for each prisoner sent to the camps, said Curtis Hill, a lobbyist for the California State Sheriffs’ Association.

Counties also are concerned about the cost of inmates’ transportation and medical care, said Rosemary McCool, a lobbyist with the California State Association of Counties.

“Fire camps certainly could be, will be, a good opportunity for us, but we simply can’t do it at those rates,” said Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith, who heads the sheriffs association’s effort on fire camps.

Additionally, the pool of non-violent prisoners will decrease if the system remains as is, said Berlant.

The Public SafetyRealignment(AB 109) signed by Governor Jerry Brown addresses the issue of overcrowding in California’s prisons.

Under the state bill, formerly sentenced inmates in state prisons may now be housed at the county level. The law took effect on October 1, 2011.

The Cal Fire Conservation Camp Program has been in existence since the 1940’s and operates in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Division of Juvenile Justice.

The program consists of non-violent prisoners, housed at conservation camps in 39 statewide locations. Typically, inmates spend a three-year duration at the camp, participating in community service projects.

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