California County Jails Feel the Pressure of Realignment

In the wake of California’s Realignment Plan, county jails are faced with the dilemma of keeping down the growing inmate population. As more sentenced prisoners are sent to local detention facilities, counties need to decide what to do with pretrial inmates in order to free up space in the jails.

The prison to jail realignment plan requires non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious offenders that are sentenced after October 2011 to serve their sentences in a local detention center instead of a state facility. Additionally, prisoners currently held in California state penitentiary have been flowing back to the county jails in larger than expected numbers. The goal of realignment is to reduce California’s state prison system due to a federal mandate to do so.

With many California county jails already beyond capacity, arguably to a dangerous point as in Los Angles, county jail deputies are forced to make the decision of which inmates are the best choice to be released early.

Over the last five months, Riverside County released almost 1,500 low-level offenders earlier than expected in order to open up room for the nearly 200 new inmates coming into the system every month.

More than half of the counties in California have court mandated limits on the number of inmates that can be housed inside the jails. This only makes the task of controlling the inmate population even more difficult.

There is a lot of worry from the community that releasing some offenders early may lead to a spike in crime. It will be a year before officials can link any rise in criminal activity to the new realignment plan. So far, there have been only a few instances of serious crimes committed by inmates that are released early.

During the first three months of the state’s realignment plan, county jail populations increased from 71,293 to 72,132. According to the California Corrections Standards Authority, the number of maximum security inmates in county jails increased to 23,339 from 22,478 the previous quarter.

Each county is looking for solutions to prevent overcrowding. Orange County has reopened its women’s jail to help make more room and increased the number of people on work release. Officials are also looking into GPS monitoring as a method of pre-trial release.

In San Bernardino County, an average of 290 inmates are released each day and 4,000 have been put on work release.

The plan also puts the responsibility of monitoring freed inmates to county probation officers…

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