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Convicts Trickling In at County Jail

"I think we have about two inmates who are in our jail instead of prison after being convicted,” said Napa County Department of Corrections Director Lenard Vare last week.

Some inmates sentenced for non-violent, non-sexual crimes may not have to change their addresses while serving their time.

The state’s , which went into effect Oct. 1, could have low-risk offenders back on the streets before they serve their full sentences.

Realignment, sending convicted prisoners back to serve their sentences in their county jails as opposed to state prisons, is the state’s solution to booming prison populations and costs.

The plan is also the answer to the California Supreme Court decision ordering the state to reduce its prisons’ population by about 40,000 inmates over the next two years, according to .

So far, the new law has had muted repercussions in Napa.

“It only has been in effect for a couple of weeks. I think we have about two inmates who are in our jail instead of prison after being convicted,” said Director Lenard Vare last week.

Realignment does not apply to violent and sex offenders. No state prison inmates will be returned to county authorities to finish their prison terms if they were committed to prison before Oct. 1.

Prior to realignment, the maximum time a person could serve in county jail was one year.

“We could have inmates in our jail for 20 years, although that is not the norm. We figure the average time served in jail will be three years or less,” Vare said.

Vare said the county is looking at alternatives to keeping inmates locked up.

“We have to look at each person and determine who should be in jail,” Vare said.

“We are not talking about violent, high risk and sex offenders. They need to be incarcerated.”

The county has a pre-trial release program for some accused of crimes in Napa:

“We look at that those who have been arrested and are in jail awaiting their trial dates. Many of these people have jobs and families,” Vare said.

“Many are non-sex, non-violent offenders who could be out in the community working at their jobs and supporting their families.”

Other alternatives for inmates include home detention, modifying probation and house arrest.

The state allows a maximum of 264 inmates to be housed at Napa County jail.

“Today, we have 290 inmates who we accommodate with portable bunk beds stacked three high,” Vare said,

Vare said because of realignment the jail expects to have an additional 70 inmates by October 2012.

It costs $77 a day to house one inmate, more if he or she has medical conditions, Vare said.

The county corrections department budget is $11 million annually, Vare said.

The state has allocated an additional $1.2 million to Napa County to be used only for realignment needs.

“These funds will be shared with the probation, jail and other county law enforcement agencies,” Vare said.

Napa County Chief Probation Mary Butler estimates about  70 people within the non-violent, non-sexual offenders will stay local.

Realignment will affect a new group of non-violent offenders who do their time in jail or a split sentence of jail time and mandatory probation, Butler said.

“Before, a defendant could chose whether to do his time in jail or on probation if offered,” she said.

“Now it is up to the judge to determine if a defendant will serve jail time and probation.”

Butler said after looking at last year’s numbers, “we expect about 100 inmates will be ordered by the judge to serve mandatory probation.

“They will come under our (county) supervision, as opposed to state parole officers if they were released from prison rather than jail,” she said.

Butler said probation, along with other local law enforcement agencies will be screening those arrested to determine if they need to serve their time behind bars or supervised probation.

“We will be working together on how to monitor these folks and what programs will help them rehabilitate and change their behavior,” Butler said.

She said it is also a worry that the funding from the state will be ongoing. “Right now, that is a big question.”

The county will be hiring two more officers for the probation department, which serves about 1,800 probationers.

Currently, 20 probation officers each have a caseload of about 120 probationers, Butler said.

“In a perfect world, that number should be about 70. A hundred isn’t great, but that is doable.” Butler said.

“Napa is in good shape” to deal with realignment,” she continued.

“We have been working for several years to develop programs and other measures to deal with jail overcrowding,” she said. “So we are not going into this (cold turkey) as many other counties are.”

District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said in an email, “Our criminal justice system partners have been working together very closely (on jail overcrowding) on a monthly basis for six years,” he said.

“We started looking much more closely at evidence based practices, including risk assessments of each probationer as well as alternatives to traditional jail for lower level crimes,” Lieberstein said.

“We opened the Community Corrections Center for about 50 probationers out-of-custody as well as allowing some in-custody defendants to participate,” he continued.

“Napa County is one of the best-suited counties to implement realignment,” Lieberstein said.

Michael Mason October 25, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Realignment addresses the Sup Court's concerns re overcrowding and inhumane conditions at our prisons by shifting the problem to the counties. 32 county jails are currently under state & Court ordered pop caps. LA Cty has been under the Court ordered watch of the ACLU for decades. Only 2 weeks after AB 109 began, 2 counties, incl Fresno, declared their jails full due to realignment. Riverside Cty rcvd 27 inmates in the 1st 2 wks of realignment, w/ 1 rcvng a sentence of 14 yrs, another 9 yrs, another 6 yrs, while 3 more rcvd 5 yrs each - all to be served in local custody. Jails are not prisons and were not designed to hold hardened criminals for long periods of time . I understand there is limited funding building some new jail space, but this takes years and cannot be completed by 2013/2014 when 40,000 inmates will have been transferred to the counties. That leaves us with two possible scenarios: overcrowded, inhumane county jails – exposing AB 109 as a shell game designed to dump the states problems on our counties - or we must stop prosecuting people for "non violent/serious" crimes like burglary, car theft, involuntary manslaughter , etc. With the jails full, and the threat of consequences removed, what do you think will happen to our crime rate? Sentencing and parole reform, including programs like the early release of women w/ children, could have gone a long way in solving our overcrowding issues w/o endangering our communities.

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