Criminal felons may no longer have to leave their county to serve their prison sentences.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the realignment bill (AB109) which allows prisoners convicted of non-serious crimes to do their time in the county jail instead of behind state prison bars.
The bill would apply only to offenders sentenced after April of this year, according to Lenard Vare, director.
“The state will not return any prisoners to the counties who were committed before the bill was signed. Those prisoners will remain in state prison to finish out their sentences or until they paroled,” Vare said.
The new bill only applies to prisoners sentenced to state prison for up to three years, he said. “It also excludes those convicted of serious felonies and sex crimes.”
However, there is one big hitch before the bill can go into effect: The governor has committed to the counties that the state will fund the cost to house the prisoners who end up in the county jails to do their time instead of state prisons, Vare said.
“At this time, there is no funding source,” he said. “And it is uncertain where that funding will come from. It could take a few months or a year. At this point we just don’t know how the state prison system is going to make the funding happen.”
Vare said it costs about $77,000 annually to house an inmate in the county jail.
“That dollar amount could be much higher if we add up medical costs,” he said. “It costs the state about $128,000 a year to house a prisoner: That’s because the state has to provide a number of programs for the inmates that we do not have to offer at the county jail.”
Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein has some very strong concerns regarding the realignment of housing “non-violent/non-serious offenders from the state to local counties,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“If the bill is enacted and funded, criminals are going to be spending years in local custody," Lieberstein wrote.
He is also concerned about the responsibility that, except in the most violent cases, will be shifted from the state parole board to already-overburdened local probations officers.
“Realignment is motivated by the needs of the state due to our current economic instability rather than upon evidence-based research which would support such a concept,” Lieberstein wrote.
Lieberstein said under the realignment plan, drug dealers, multi-offense drunk drivers will be handled at the local level.
“For example, a drug dealer who sells five pounds of methamphetamine will not be eligible for prison unless he uses minors in the sales transactions.
“A person charged with DUI and having three or more prior DUIs will no longer be be eligible for prison unless they have injured someone.”
Lieberstein also wrote that although the funding for the bill is in limbo, “It will be moving tens of thousands of (what should be state prisoners) to the local level and does not address the fact that over two-thirds of local county jails are already filled to capacity.”
There is something “definitely dysfunctional” about the state prison system, since the recidivism rate among parolees is between 70 to 80 percent, Lieberstein said.
“We need to do a better job so they can re-enter society (successfully.) But the California Department of Corrections has no funding for rehabilitation programs.”
Vare said the realignment bill would affect the already-overpopulated at Napa County jail.
“We will have to address that if and when that happens,” he said. “There will also be cost increases in transportation, clothing, food, utilities and possibility of more staff.”
The Napa County Board of Supervisors has allocated the maximum of 264 inmates in the county jail.
Vare told Napa Patch last month that “Right now, our population is 261. But that can change daily. It is hard to plan for our population. We get new inmates and release some almost every day.”
Vare said alternatives of full-time incarceration in the jail are work furlough, house arrest and probation.