Ready or not … here they come.
On Saturday, Oct. 1, the criminal justice system in California began one of the most drastic and controversial overhauls in recent history.
As a result of Assembly Bill 109, many felons deemed “nonviolent” will be serving their prison sentences in county jails instead of state prisons.
For cash-strapped rural counties like Plumas, the added burden could be staggering.
Over the past several months, the county has been trying to scrape together enough money and additional manpower to deal with the expected influx of prisoners and parolees.
The sheriff predicts the jail will fill up quickly.
The chief probation officer is scrambling to hire extra staff.
The understaffed district attorneys office could face the awkward position of having to decide which criminals should go to jail.
The county’s health care system could end up taking care of more inmates with mental health and substance abuse problems.
“The criminal justice system as we know it is undergoing some of the most significant and radical changes in our lifetimes,” District Attorney David Hollister said.
Hollister and Sheriff Greg Hagwood have been canvassing the county in a series of townhall meetings to inform residents of the changes, and ask for their help at the same time.
Hollister conducted the most recent townhall meeting Wednesday, Sept. 28, in Quincy.
Hollister and Hagwood are also members of the Plumas County Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee, tasked with forming a plan to deal with the inmate surge.
The executive committee includes Superior Court Judge Ira Kaufman, Public Defender Doug Prouty, Alcohol and Drug Programs Administrator Mimi Hall and Chief Probation Officer Sharon Reinert, who chairs the committee.
The committee has been working on an action plan that will go to the Board of Supervisors Oct. 18.
To help cushion the financial blow, the supervisors have pledged to transfer $1 million from the county’s Mental Health fund reserves for inmate-related mental health costs.
That’s because the state is giving Plumas County just over $200,000 to pay for the inmate realignment. Many county leaders agree the eventual costs will be much higher.
The implications for Plumas County may not be fully realized for years.
Following are some highlights and statistics from the implementation plan compiled by the Community Corrections Partnership Executive Committee:
History of AB 109
Between 1973 and 2009 the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent.
In California, the state prisons were operating at more than 170 percent of capacity. And with a recidivism rate of 70 percent, the prisons were bursting at the seams.
In 2009, a panel of three federal judges ordered California to reduce its prison population to 110,000 from 156,000. The official state prison capacity is 80,000.
In May, the Supreme Court upheld the federal ruling. The court ruled for the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by May 24, 2013.
The result was AB 109.
Elements of AB 109
Redefining felonies: The definition is revised to include certain crimes that are punishable by 16 months, two years or three years in jail. Serious, violent and sex offenses will continue to be served in state prisons. However, some offenders will be put on probation rather than parole supervision after being released from prison.
Local post-release community supervision: Many felons released from state prisons beginning Oct. 1 will be subject to community supervision by an agency approved by the Board of Supervisors. The county’s understaffed probation department is expected to fill that role.
Revocations heard and served locally: People who violate probation or parole will serve time in the county jail (up to 180 days).
Changes to custody credits: Inmates will now be able to earn four days of credit for every two days served. Time spent in home detention is credited as time spent in jail. As a result, inmates could serve just half their sentence in actual custody.
Alternative custody: Eligible inmates will be placed on electronic monitoring instead of spending time in jail in lieu of bail.
Target population: Inmates released from state prison to community supervision will be the responsibility of the county probation department. These felons can have serious or violent offenses in their criminal history.
Community based sanctions: The county is authorized to use a range of community-based punishment and intermediate sanctions other than jail time alone or traditional routine probation supervision. The offenders might be picking up trash or pulling weeds.
County jail could overflow
The Plumas County Jail has 67 beds to house inmates.
However, the facility is outdated and has safety and housing issues for its staff.
The 67-bed capacity can shrink substantially depending on the fluctuations of male and female population. Problem inmates can make the jail’s capacity even smaller.
And according to information from the district attorney’s office, 34 defendants were sentenced to state prison in fiscal 2010-11.
Had AB 109 been in place, 24 of those people would have remained in the county jail. Of those 24 inmates, the average sentence was 24.33 months.
During the same time period, 455 defendants were sentenced to the county jail as a term of probation. Their average length of stay was 39 days.
The jail also houses inmates being held for probation violations, parole revocations, warrants, immigration holds and other offenses.
The state has estimated Plumas County will assume responsibility for approximately 69 additional offenders by June 30, 2013.
Many local criminal justice officials believe that number will be much greater.
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