The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has been monitoring the effect of Governor Brown’s Public Safety Realignment law (AB109) since it took effect in October 2011. The law shifts responsibility for supervising most habitual felons released from state prison to counties and prevents criminals who commit new theft, burglary, assault and drug-related crimes from being sentenced to state prison. Local sheriff’s offices across the state have expressed concerns that counties have neither the jail capacity nor resources to house or supervise the thousands of repeat felons they are now required to deal with. As a result, local jails designed to house relatively low-level offenders for a year or less are now holding hardened criminals for several years.
A Los Angeles Times story on August 21 noted, "Reducing the inmate population is crucial because jails are filling up, mostly due to the state’s prison realignment program that is shifting responsibility for more criminals to local lockups. Los Angeles County could begin releasing more low-risk inmates—perhaps thousands—to house arrest in the coming months."
Sheriff’s officials are reporting an increase in prison-type behavior, and, according to San Luis Obispo Chief Deputy Probation Officer Robert Reyes, the realigned inmate population is coming to jail with a hardened, prison mentality. The inmates are less cooperative with probation officers. "About a quarter of offenders [realigned] have serious or violent felonies on their record, and perhaps 30 to 40 percent have ties to prison gangs or other groups within the prison system." San Luis Obispo County Jail has changed completely. Inmates that used to be in prison are being packed into already full jail housing units which has caused an increase in not only tensions but altercations. According to San Luis Obispo Undersheriff Tim Olivas, from October to July, 160 people who would have been in prison are now in the jail. Also, 475 have violated their probation or parole and been placed in the local jail rather than going back to prison. (The San Luis Obispo Tribune, August 19).
In the same story, San Luis Obispo Correctional Sgt. Mike Thomas, who has worked at the county jail nearly 26 years, reported seeing more criminal sophistication from inmates who have served time in prison, which can influence less seasoned inmates. More contraband is being found in jails, and the frequency of assaults has increased since Realignment. "Now, since these guys aren’t moving up to the big leagues, they’re bringing the big leagues to us." Lt. Kelly Kenitz confirms inmates no longer wait for prison to fight over respect infractions. This includes the introduction of new prison-like rules amongst inmates, including which races can eat or shower together which did not exist in local jails prior to realignment. As of August 2, of the 707 inmates, or 28%, in the San Luis Obispo County jail would have been in state prison were it not for realignment. The jail is approved to house 517 inmates total, though new beds have since been added to increase the capacity to 683.
"San Luis Obispo County Jail is overcrowded, understaffed and insufficient for the inmate population forced into it by Assembly Bill 109, according to a county grand jury report." (Times Press Recorder, May 27).
Solano County, which housed 328 Realignment criminals on Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS) as of the end of August, has seen a change in inmate behavior as well. Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton says, "The biggest impact on the Sheriff’s Office has been the change in our inmate population." "The law enforcement landscape in Solano County is different than it was a year ago before the state passed AB 109." (Dixon Patch, August 31). "39 percent of Solano County’s jail population is a direct result of realignment," officials said. (The Reporter, August 29).
Butte County Undersheriff Kory Honea calls the jails a county prison. He told reporters "the Butte County Jail needs to increase the number of inmates it can house by expanding or renovating. . . . Crowding was an issue before realignment." (Corrections One News, July 26, emphasis added).
According to Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, the county jail was not prepared for the number of inmates realigned from prison, was not meant to hold inmates long-term, and is stretched to capacity. Sheriff Mims said a big issue with Realignment is the fact that only the inmate’s most recent offense is considered, not their entire criminal history. "More than half the county’s new inmates are considered medium or high risk." (The California Report, August 20).
"In San Mateo County, Sheriff Gregory Munks says his jails already are stretched to capacity." (SF Gate, August 2).
Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti "expressed frustration with the lack of jail space, which has resulted in early releases and created the perception of a revolving door at the jail. Failure to appear warrants totaled 4,569 in the first six months of the year, a 32 percent increase from last year, when there were 3,453." (The Record Searchlight, August 20).
"Our research is finding that virtually every county in California is being negatively impacted by the Governor’s Realignment law. We are witnessing a state-caused breakdown in the criminal justice system that is already having a real impact on public safety," said Foundation President Michael Rushford.