The hastily implemented California Public Safety Realignment Act has local officials scrambling to fill a budget deficit and figure out a plan to deal with future burdens it may have on the county jail's capacity and budget.
That's because some inmates who would have been in a state prison before now reside at the Del Norte County Jail.
Realignment implemented last October restructured the state's court, jail, prison and probation systems. It followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forced the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to decrease its population by more than 30,000 inmates within two years due to overcrowding and medical concerns.
Non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious offenders are now serving multiple years in jails that were built to hold individual inmates for a maximum of one year. And those same types of offenders who were sent to prison before the plan's implementation are now being paroled to county probation.
At least 10 inmates have been sentenced to the Del Norte County Jail who would have otherwise served prison sentences; the longest term being six years.
Those inmates, however, may serve only half of their sentences by gaining a day of credit for each day served, and could serve even less than half their sentences for credit earned through good behavior.
The prisoner sentenced to six years is "taking a bunk for three years," said sheriff's Commander Bill Steven, who oversees jail operations. "That's where the impact comes from."
Concerns about capacity
The jail, which typically houses about 110 inmates, hasn't been inundated yet, but there is concern for the future as more multiple-year inmates are sentenced to jail bunks.
"The biggest issue for me is what is the impact now, what is the impact going to be in six months and what it's going to be in three years," said Steven. "What happens when we run out of bunks in the jail because we have these long-term inmates?"
Pre-sentencing inmates - those being held while their court cases are concluded - could be released or people arrested may not even be placed in custody until they are sentenced if the jail is too full, Steven said.
It could also have an impact on the jail's ability to house short-term inmates - much of its population currently is only serving three- to six-week stints for minor violations such as public intoxication or traffic violations, Steven said.
Larger communities are already facing these dilemmas, Steven said. In some instances inmates have been sent to a county jail for more than 10 years, he said.
The early estimate for how many additional inmates would be sent to Del Note's jail was 11- but not until four years afterimplementation of realignment.
But Sheriff Dean Wilson said he has seen that counties are usually housing three times the amount of inmates as was initially projected.
"County jails were not built or designed for that long-term commitment," said Wilson.
Shifting the inmate and parole population has relieved the state of much of the costs by placing the burden on the counties, Wilson said.
Drug programs affected
An unforeseen consequence that cost the jail more than $400,000 in revenue last fiscal year was losing state parolee holds and a drug and alcohol treatment program offered to state parolees in lieu of being sent back to prison, Wilson said. The treatment program usually brought in more than $300,000, but with inmates no longer facing additional prison time for parole violations, it basically died, Wilson said.
Parolees now face flash incarceration - jail stints of up to 10 days - or other alternatives such as GPS home monitoring.
The Sheriff's Office received realignment compensation from the state of $35,000 last fiscal year; the county $240,000 and an additional $100,000 for new planning andofficer training for realignment. The county is expected to receive more than $500,000 from the state for realignment this fiscal year.
"It didn't work out too well for us," said Wilson. "The money is inadequate."
Out an overall $450,000 from last fiscal year and with a projected loss of $680,000 in revenue for this fiscal year - a majority blamed on realignment - Wilson on Tuesday responded by proposing to cut five positions on his payroll to the county Board of Supervisors and proposed a contract - which was approved - to lease 20 beds to Shasta County to produce an estimated $440,000 in revenue.
Medical costs and potential litigation are added concerns, Wilson said.
He anticipates county jails having the same problems of overcrowding and medical concernsthat the prison system faced.
"How do we afford care for an inmate that has a major medical problem?" said Wilson. "We don't have the luxury to interrupt their sentence while they get treated."
Previously, inmate with major medical problems were released to seek treatment then ordered to finish their sentence, Wilson said.
"You can only do that with certain people," said Wilson, citing public safety concerns. "It's a problem. I don't feel (realignment) will be an overall benefit to most small counties because the financial impact will outweigh the funding that comes with it."
New probation efforts
While realignment may have a negative impact on jails, it's bringing a more concentrated effort to reduce recidivism through rehabilitative programs run by county probation departments.
Del Norte County has added about 30 new parolees - 20were projected to be under county supervision after four years - that would have been supervised by the state before realignment, saidChief Probation Officer Tom Crowell. That stacks onto the 310 adult parolees and 100 juveniles his office already supervises.
"The biggest issue is preparing for the future," said Crowell. "Our supervision levels are going to increase."
New programs in probation are geared toward reconditioning how parolees view themselves and their place in society, Crowell said. They are placed in group therapy sessions according to an assessment that measures their risk-level, areas of strength and factors linked to criminal behavior.
"This is all new and exciting for everyone. It certainly doesn't take away from the fact offenders need to be punished," said Crowell. "We're at a point now that I think we need to revisit the process we've had in the past and look at what is more sustaining over the long term."
A daily reporting center that will have space for 14 people to live if they are homeless, a kitchen to grow independent living skills and a meeting area are in the works and could be operating in October, Crowell said.
It will also be the hub for parolees to meet and be taken to perform community service around the county, Crowell said.
By contributing to society, they will begin to feel self-worth and change their self-image, he said.
"So they don't feel like such an outcast," said Crowell. "It's showing them you still have value as a person."
Switching parolees to county probation has led to a lower recidivism rate, Crowell said.
"Our people have been very compliant which is really quite amazing," said Crowell, referring to all realignment parolees since October. "These offenders are from our community, so we know who they are. I think that's an advantage for us, specifically, as opposed to the state."
Still, while realignment is an improvement toward correcting criminal behavior and rehabilitating parolees, it remains reactionary to offenses, Crowell said.
He hopes some time in the future, resources and shifts will be focused on the children in the community, specifically those 5 and younger, to help shape how they will behave as adults, Crowell said.
"That's really the critical component here," said Crowell.
Reach Anthony Skeens at email@example.com.