The state’s prison inmate population is shrinking, but the number of convicted criminals housed inside Riverside County jails is growing, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“As of January 5, 2012, the Sheriff's Department's jails are housing 735 inmates who would have been sent to state prison for felony court convictions or violations of their state parole,” according to a Friday news release from the Sheriff’s Department.
Federal courts have forced California to reduce its inmate population as a way to better care for those incarcerated in what is the nation’s largest prison system. The state has been blasted by the courts for overcrowding and lack of inmate health care in its prison system.
To help deal with the problem, last year California lawmakers passed State Assembly Bill 109 by a partisan vote, with Democrats voting for and Republicans against. The legislation is designed to reduce state prison overcrowding, costs, and recidivism by "realigning" inmates from state institutions into local county jails.
According to the Associated Press, as a result of realignment the state's inmate population across its 33 prisons for adults fell to 132,887 as of last week. The number is down by about 10,000 as compared to early 2011 figures, the AP reported.
But Friday’s news release from the Sheriff’s Department warns that under AB 109’s realignment policy, Riverside County will see the early release of inmates because, according to department officials, there isn’t enough room for all the criminals in local jails.
“AB 109 has created a drastic increase in the number of inmates in our custody and our jails are now operating at maximum capacity,” the release stated. “The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is operating under a federal court order requiring that every inmate housed in its jails has a bed. As a result, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department will be forced to relieve overcrowding by exercising measures such as electronic ankle bracelet monitoring, return parole violators to the supervision of parole, and the early release of some lower-level inmates.”
Those convicted of violent and/or sex crimes are still being housed in state prisons, but inmates facing three years or less for non-violent, non-sexual or non-serious crimes are being sent to county jails under AB 109.
Yet according to the Sheriff's Department, current jail records show that almost 20 percent of inmates convicted of these "non" offenses are receiving jail sentences exceeding three years.
The news release also contends that, under AB 109, the county is no longer able to place parole violators into the state prison system, which is further impacting the overcrowding problem in local jails.
“Prior to AB 109, … parole violators would have remained in the jail's custody for only 1-2 days and then returned to the care and custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation." According to the release, parole violators are taking up valuable space in the county jails – up to 60 to 90 days.
Republican lawmakers and some law enforcement officials have predicted rising crime rates because of the realignment under AB 109.
When Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) announced his bid in April for a 2012 county supervisor seat, he blasted AB 109. More recently, he has warned of the potential loss of inmate labor and its impact on firefighting readiness as result of AB 109.
California houses about 5,300 inmates in fire camps and private state prisons, according to Associated Press statistics. Jeffries has urged that the county have a plan in place to deal with the shift of inmates from state fire camps to county jails.