People who should be in prison are running free and breaking laws in Plumas County.
Right now, local criminal justice leaders said there is very little they can do about it.
“They are running wild,” Chief Probation Officer Sharon Reinert said. “They snub their nose at us and they know there is nothing we can do. They are a threat to the community.”
Reinert’s grim assessment represents the worst Assembly Bill 109 inmate realignment scenario coming true.
Just nine months after AB 109 went into effect, the county jail is full.
During a meeting Wednesday, July 11, in Quincy, members of the county’s public safety realignment committee said they continued to grapple with the growing problem that is on the verge of a crisis.
The most glaring problem is at the county jail. The facility is currently too small to house all the inmates who should be there, according to committee members.
Because the county is currently out of compliance with a 20-year-old consent decree, the jail’s 67-bed capacity has been cut in half.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood said that to get the consent decree lifted, his office needs to hire more corrections officers. Until that happens, the jail’s capacity is limited to 37.
Hagwood added that before he can add the five or more officers needed to satisfy the decree, he needs to replace as many as five who have left or will soon be leaving.
“The staffing situation is such that we are trying to hold the numbers that we currently have,” Hagwood said. “We’ve had two retirements. We are anticipating a third. And there may be the departure of two additional people. So hiring five is just going to keep us where we were a year ago.”
Hagwood said he wasn’t even sure how many additional officers would be needed to satisfy the decree. The state Corrections Standard Authority (CSA) hasn’t identified the exact number that would put the county jail in compliance.
Deputy County Counsel Steve Mansell told the committee that his office is negotiating with the plaintiff’s attorneys to get the consent decree lifted.
He said the plaintiffs are willing to lift the decree, but not without the CSA’s approval.
Mansell said the CSA appears to be playing a game with Plumas County.
“CSA is essentially playing the ‘hot or cold’ game. … ‘You are getting warmer. You are getting warmer,’” Mansell said. “I would like to get a straight number (of additional corrections officers needed).”
Plumas County Supervisor Jon Kennedy, who attended the meeting, said the CSA needs to give the county an exact number soon. The county, facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit, has to figure out how to pay the additional officers.
“I think we should already know that staffing answer,” Kennedy said. “If there is an objective that we need to meet to modify the consent decree, we should already know what that math is. And the fact that they won’t tell us … I don’t get that. We can’t just put an ad in the paper that says ‘No crime this week. We are at our limit.’”
“They won’t give us a direct number,” Mansell said. “They’ll either tell us we are understaffed, or we are staffed.”
Hagwood said that even if the CSA gives the county the “magic number” of officers needed to make the jail compliant with the decree, hiring them could take at least four months.
He said he is in the process of recruiting officers to fill the current vacancies.
Inmate dynamic changing
“We are starting to see some things with AB 109 that many of the urban counties are already seeing. Our inmate population is changing,” District Attorney David Hollister said. “We have people in our jail who ordinarily ought to be in prison.
“There is just a heightened level of safety,” Hollister said. “Our arraignment today (July 11) involves an inmate that has threatened to kill a jailer.”
Hollister said, “It’s been remarkable that our sheriff’s office has been able to keep the jail afloat — basically bringing people in off the street to try and fill these (officer) shifts.”
Hagwood said his office has been hiring part-time officers to work at the jail.
Making more room
Assistant Sheriff Dean Canalia said the county is using electronic monitoring (ankle bracelets) that allows non-violent inmates to serve some of their sentence outside of the jail.
He said five people are currently wearing the bracelets outside of the jail. He said he hoped to use electronic monitoring to reduce the jail population from the current 37 inmates to 33 in the next few weeks.
“Our goal right now is to decrease the population so beds can be open by Aug. 1 for flash incarceration.”
The term “flash incarceration” is used to describe the process of sending parole violators back to jail.
Because the jail is full, parolees and people on probation know they can break the rules and commit minor crimes without the threat of returning to jail.
“Basically, right now we have a class of people that have been released from prison. Ordinarily they would be on parole. But they are now on post-release community supervision under our probation department’s supervision,” Hollister said.
He said intermediate steps could be taken if someone breaks the terms of their post-release supervision. For example, a person who takes drugs or drinks alcohol could be ordered to attend substance-abuse meetings.
“If those steps fail, the idea is that the probation officer can then arrest them, bring them to jail, and they can be housed for up to 10 days.”
Alternative sentencing and evaluation
Under the direction of Public Health Director Mimi Hall, the county is in the process of reinstituting an alcohol and drug program.
With the help of the county’s mental health director, Pat Leslie, the county plans to provide judges with the option of rendering split sentences.
Judges are currently forced, in many cases, to sentence drug offenders and people with mental health issues to jail.
Often people who committed crimes would be better served by receiving assistance to address substance abuse or mental health issues.
Leslie said her office hired a person who will begin work Sept. 1. She said the person would be doing assessments on non-violent inmates to determine if they could be eligible for drug and alcohol or mental health services instead of incarceration.
Hall said the plan is to expand the program as the services are put into place.
“We will have the capacity to try to do the type of assessments that we have been talking about,” Hall said. “We will try to determine, ‘What services does this person need? What category do they fall in?’”
Superior Court Judge Ira Kaufman said providing options other than jail is essential.
“It’s a very simple equation: If somebody’s in custody, our goal is to get them out of custody as soon as it’s appropriate,” Kaufman said. “If we can do that then (the jail) crisis is lessened, because we are getting the less-violent, less-dangerous people out of custody … and keeping in custody people who really need to be there and should be there.”
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