Corrections by the County
California Lawyer

Corrections by the County

August 2012

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Prison Realignment: Now What? August 2012

KERN: In tough-on-crime Kern County, 84 percent of the state's realignment allotment of $11 million went for law enforcement, more cell capacity, and probation services. The county is seeking an additional $100 million to build a 790-bed jail.

Although it ranks 13th in population among California's counties, Kern had the state's third-highest crime rate in 2010. The county relies heavily on the state prison system, sending new felons to prison at 117 percent of the statewide average, according to data from that year.

"We've had advisory groups tell us, 'You can't build your way out of this,'" says Arthur R. Titus, Kern County's public defender in Bakersfield. He favors putting more money into services that promote rehabilitation, mental health services, and alternatives to incarceration. Still, the county apportioned nearly all of its allotment to law enforcement. "The only dissenting vote was mine," Titus says.

Pretrial or nonsentenced inmates make up about 85 percent of the county's jail population - the sixth-highest rate in the state. The sheriff's office reports plans to establish a home-detention program and an electronic monitoring unit, and to expand a work- release program.

SAN FRANCISCO: One of San Francisco County's five jails was recently closed due to low jail populations, but the 360-bed space may reopen when the other jails reach capacity. Even though San Francisco ranks 10th in population among the state's counties, its crime rate per 100,000 people is 23rd. In 2010 the number of new felons it sent to state prisons was just 28 percent of the statewide average.

San Francisco County allocated 81 percent of its $5 million realignment funds for 2012 to the probation department, spending just $50,000 for potential jail capacity.

District Attorney George Gascón plans to hire alternative sentencing planners, and the sheriff's department is turning more to involuntary home detention and electronic monitoring. The probation office will rely on routine home visits, and increase both resources for substance-abuse treatment and sanctions for parole violations.

FRESNO: Historically, Fresno County sends about seven times as many felons to state prison each year than similarly sized San Francisco County, even though the latter had a higher rate of violent crime from 2000 to 2009.

Fresno County is currently under a federal court order to end jail overcrowding, even though it has 1,000 beds sitting empty because of budget cuts and staff reductions. In the first year of realignment, it allocated more than half of its $9 million from the state to reopen jail beds, adding 400 last October.

Because of the crowding, someone who's arrested in Fresno County may be booked and then released the same day. "It's not unusual for [defendants] to beat the judge home for dinner," says Public Defender Kenneth K. Taniguchi. "It is frustrating for the judges and frustrating for the police."

LOS ANGELES: Though Los Angeles County has more residents than any other county in California, its crime rate per 100,000 people ranked 22nd in 2010. That same year, more than two-thirds of the county's approximately 18,600 inmates were awaiting trial or sentencing. The rate of new felons going to state prison was 118 percent of the state average.

The county is spending its realignment allotment to build 4,234 additional jail beds, and is considering a $1.4 billion plan to replace one of its jails with a larger one, increasing capacity by 400.

The sheriff's department uses work-release and electronic monitoring programs, including GPS monitoring, to manage the sentenced jail population. In addition, the probation department is implementing risk/needs assessments and individual drug or mental health treatment plans for felons on supervised release.

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