Plumas braces for shift of inmates from prison to jail

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

New Plumas County District Attorney (DA) David Hollister explained some of the unique challenges that would be facing his office in the future, during a recent Board of Supervisors meeting.

The DA said new Gov. Jerry Brown supported former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to shift some of the state prison burden back to the counties.

Hollister anticipated that prisoners originally sentenced to terms of three years or less would soon be returned to the counties they came from, while new offenders convicted of those crimes would also serve their time in jail.

The attorney argued this change would impact small counties disproportionately because they prosecuted a larger percentage of offenders with shorter sentences.

Hollister said when he worked in Oakland he spent all of his time trying cases that either involved the possibility of life in prison or had a cop as the defendant because high profile cases were the only ones people cared about there.

He told the supervisors smaller crimes had a larger impact on people's quality of life in small communities, where the expectations were different.

"Somebody breaks into Quincy Drug - that's a big deal to me. That's somebody who probably ought to go to prison. Somebody selling meth, maybe to school kids - that's a big deal to me. That guy goes to prison."

Hollister indicated both of those crimes had maximum sentences of three years meaning, "Those people will be housed in county jail."

"We have a finite number of beds in the county jail," he continued. "Those beds are now the most valuable beds in Plumas County because we need to pay attention to who fills them and that is going to be a real challenge."

Indian Valley Supervisor Robert Meacher asked how many criminals convicted each year in Plumas County received sentences longer than one year but shorter than three. These are the people that were previously in prison but would soon be housed in jail.

Hollister guessed the number was somewhere between 20 and 50 each year.

"We don't have that many beds," Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford exclaimed.

Hollister confirmed that was the case, adding, "We're going to have to work with probation."

"The folks that are in there, maybe on their third-time DUI, we need to do something else for them."

He concluded electronic home monitoring or work programs would have to become larger parts of the county's incarceration plans.

Prescription drugs

The DA explained Plumas wasn't immune to the growing prescription drug abuse problem, commenting that it was "catching up with methamphetamine around here."

"Isn't that because the CHP is focusing very heavily on that these days?" Meacher asked.

"Maybe with the DUI part of it, but we're seeing burglaries for people to steal those out of retirees' houses, people that are selling them."

"We had one who came along, somebody who had 400 pills in their pocket. I mean they're not going to take 400 hydrocodone pills."

"We're starting to see the effects of it, just very damaging to young folks - very addictive - and something we're really trying to watch."

The Hollister doctrine

On his personal philosophy, Hollister told the board, "Politics stay out of the courtroom."

The DA said this meant he would never have an answer for questions like "What's your policy on methamphetamine sales? What's your policy on murder, or child molestation?"

"That's not fair to the system. It's not fair to the defendant. It's not fair to the victim."

"We look at each case individually," he concluded.

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