It’s no secret — the number of arrests in Plumas County isn’t decreasing; sentences are longer and everything costs more.
The new jail will solve many issues, but the benefits won’t begin until the new correctional facility is completed in 2019 — a year-and-a-half to two years away.
The average length of stay used to be 37 days, said Sheriff Greg Hagwood. And then Assembly Bill 109 came along in 2011.
The Plumas County Sheriff’s Correctional Facility in Quincy was already in a world of hurt. Each and every year since 1999, the Plumas Grand Jury could be relied upon to focus on the 1970s-era facility’s deficiencies.
“It was never designed as a jail,” Hagwood has been known to tell groups.
With the passage of AB109, California’s prison sentence structure changed and with it so did the responsibilities of county jails.
Prior to 2011 the maximum sentence to jail was less than a year. Now Hagwood is seeing people sentenced for “five, six, seven, eight, 10 years.” The longest sentence of anyone now serving time in the county’s jail is nine years.
Now bring in a new twist. In 2014, California voters approved Proposition 47 that changed some nonviolent crimes once thought as prison-worthy to misdemeanors. While that reduced populations in many county jails — in 2015, a year after Proposition 47 passed — Plumas was an exception and its population increased by 4 percent. That same year in Plumas County however, violent crimes dropped by 36 percent and property crimes decreased by 52 percent, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
Although a new facility is on the horizon and designed to solve many problems, the issues aren’t solved yet.
The existing facility, although expanded, updated, upgraded and generally improved upon wasn’t designed as a jail. It was the sheriff’s administrative facility with a small jail inside.
The Plumas County’s sheriff’s office was built in a decade where the county population increased from 12,000 to about 18,000. In the following decades, Plumas’ population increased to nearly 22,000 and then declined to approximately 19,000 in 2015. But the jail population doesn’t reflect those changes. “It’s been going up,” Hagwood said recently about arrests.
The cause of the increase is no surprise, it’s related to an increase in drug-related activities and crimes.
“I would suggest that this may be attributed to a lack of available services with the close of the Day Reporting Center [formerly through the District Attorney’s Alternative Sentencing Program], and the discontinuance of Drug Court [a Proposition 36 program],” Hagwood said.
He said that those two factors aren’t the entire reason for the increases, but they significantly increased the number of arrests being made. “There’s a clear correlation.”
Crimes generally associated with drug use — thefts and burglaries — are also increasing, Hagwood said. People are often looking for things they can sell to earn money to purchase drugs.
Historically, the east end of Plumas County had the highest number of arrests, Hagwood said. “Now every community in our county” suffers from drug addiction and related behaviors.
And what’s to blame for the increase? Hagwood said there has been a recent lack of drug education and prevention in local schools. And that’s one of the problems.
In an effort to curb the problem, the sheriff’s office has joined with public health and social services in developing a program for Plumas Unified School District and charter schools’ junior high students.
When Hagwood became a deputy in 1988, he was assigned to the DARE task force. Launched in 1983, Drug Abuse Resistance Education for K-12 was offered in schools throughout the U.S. and in 52 countries. The program was designed to provide school children with the knowledge and life skills to understand and resist the pressures to experiment with drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Hagwood said the new curriculum, identified by public health staff involved in this venture, should be ready before the end of the school year.
Any input from Behavior Health and its Alcohol and Other Drugs program is welcome, he said.
Two deputies have been identified to provide the new education programs. Hagwood said that prevention will be presented as part of the regular classroom on an ongoing basis “to the target population,” which begins at the junior high level.
The cost for this education program is minimal, Hagwood said. They are approaching various groups to partner with and help provide funding for the basic cost of materials.
He is also interested in placing naloxone in all the schools and training some staff members on how to use it. Naloxone is the accepted treatment for opioid-induced overdoses.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Hagwood quoted about these steps.
In considering the success rate of drug prevention programs in the schools, the results are generally less than satisfying. “But it’s worth the endeavor.”
Hagwood said the officers trained and assigned to the substance abuse prevention education program would undoubtedly form strong bonds with some of the students. He still sees people he knew in the classroom during his DARE days. They’re parents now, but they remember him and his message.
Back to considering those who are arrested and its costs, Hagwood said the jail program is financially tight. For fiscal year 2017-2018 the jail budget is just under $3 million.
He estimated that it costs in the neighborhood of $100 a day to house an inmate. But then there are so many variables — medical expenses, prescription costs, or if there’s an incident with an inmate who is injured or one who falls.
For instance, recently one inmate was attacked by other inmates. His injuries were so serious he had to be sent out of county for surgery. Hagwood said they’re probably looking at a $100,000 bill. Those kinds of costs can’t be planned for, but they need to find the money to cover the bills.
“As far as housing, it changes daily due to inmates in protective custody, administrative segregation, disciplinary lockdown,” said Chad Hermann, jail commander.
There’s also a federal consent decree the Plumas County Corrections Center is under, Hagwood pointed out.
In the late 1980s, some inmates launched a federal class action lawsuit and won. They claimed they were subjected to inhumane conditions within the facility. They said there was a lack of staffing; it was unsafe; there was a lack of medical attention; the heating and air conditioning was inadequate and more. The suit came under then Sheriff Dick McKenzie’s watch.
Although the suit was settled years ago, the corrections center is still subject to regular inspections by the state’s Bureau of Corrections, the fire marshal, environmental health and others. Moreover, of course, everything is open to audit by the Plumas County Grand Jury.
Conditions in the jail are “better today than they’ve been in a long time,” Hagwood said. It’s safer, there is more staff, and there are education programs, counseling provided by Plumas County Behavior Health, and other programs.
“It is our goal not to be subject to the consent decree in the near future,” Hagwood said. The $25 million grant from the state for a new corrections facility goes a long way in correcting past issues.
Continuing to consider the jail, Hagwood said its capacity is 67 inmates, but there’s no way it could really house that many. There are too many variables in housing, among other issues.
Currently the facility houses as many as 50-some inmates. This fluctuates from the high 40s to the low 50s, Hagwood said.
“The current layout of the facility is not user-friendly to say the least,” Hermann said.
One of the changes Hagwood has encountered since he began in 1988 with the sheriff’s department is the number of women arrested. It used to be rare to arrest a woman. But times have changed. Women now make up about a third of the inmate population. And the facility wasn’t designed for women. Finding space to house them and meet their specific needs is quite a task.
“Of course you can’t house men and women together,” he explained. And there are other considerations for both men and women. There are mental health needs, medical needs, mental behaviors and criminal behaviors to consider. And it’s hard to maintain segregation, Hagwood said.
There are also new considerations that no one thought about perhaps even 10 years ago — that of gender identity. Now there are issues of where to house women who consider themselves male, and men who identify with being female.
“As far as gender identification, there is law describing how to address and handle gender identity that we are compelled to comply with,” Hermann explained.
The California prison system now pays for gender reassignment surgery, Hagwood said. He didn’t elaborate what the jail would do if someone sentenced to a long term in the county facility demanded that.
As an aside, sex reassignment includes regular counseling for up to a year before the surgery, costs range from $50 to $200 per session, letters from therapists prior to surgery can cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $5,000. Hormone therapy costs range from $300 to $2,400. Everything can range between $40,000 to $50,000 for individuals with insurance plans that covers sex reassignment. Without health insurance, costs range from about $60,000 to $75,000. This doesn’t include facial or body reconstruction that some want or the cost of a legal name change. And of course, no one does that kind of surgery in Plumas County. If this was to occur and the county needed to comply, there would be additional costs for transportation, security and housing.
Plumas County’s jail is one of the last remaining linear buildings in the state. When the county purchased the former Quincy Ranger District offices on East Main Street (Highway 70) just down the street from the jail, administration moved into much needed space and the jail was allowed to expand. But that was only good up to a point. The fact remains that it’s outdated and has numerous issues within the facility.
Back to the jail configuration, Hagwood said the new facility would be seven units smaller than the existing jail with only 60 beds, but beds are better utilized and housing configurations are planned for in a better way.
The new facility will be safer for inmates and corrections officers alike. It will also be safer for those providing delivery services to the facility.
In managing arrests, court and jail time, Hagwood said it is just easier if all partners work together.
“It is impossible for any one entity to stand alone,” he said.
“There is an emphasis on working together,” in order to be successful as a county and to all the communities. “We are inter-dependent on each other for overall success,” he added.
“We are grateful for the relationships and partnerships that allow us to be as successful as we are and the unwavering commitment of our staff members that have made this possible,” Hagwood said about existing partnerships with the courts, the district attorney and his department.
By the numbers
Arrests in Plumas County are traditionally higher in the summer months when visitors swell the local population as they arrive to enjoy the many recreational opportunities as well as its peaceful backdrop. It’s a place to escape to.
Plumas County Correctional Facility Commander Chad Hermann investigated the top crimes and arrests by numbers from Nov. 2017 back to 2010.
Bookings were at their highest in 2010 with 1,498 arrests. “We had about 30 percent more officers on patrol than we do now,” said Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood.
In 2010, the sheriff’s office had about 20 to 21 officers. Now it’s down to 14, Hagwood said.
“Arrests have almost doubled, almost tripled with far fewer officers in the field,” especially in more recent years, he said.
Unlike other areas that have discontinued sending officers to some crimes, Plumas County Sheriff’s Office continues to cover everything.
“Most [other county law enforcement] won’t respond to a cold burglary,” Hagwood said as an example. Many other crimes fall into that category.
“We still do that,” he added. “And we have an incredibly good solve rate [regarding burglaries].”
Although the sheriff’s office patrol unit is understaffed, there isn’t a crime that happens they won’t respond to. “Ya, they might have to wait awhile,” he explained. The sheriff’s office might have only one deputy in that part of the county and if they’re in Beckwourth and the call is in Graeagle, there might be a delay.
But for every call there’s an interview and a follow through, Hagwood said.
Possibly worth repeating is how much it costs once someone is arrested and taken to jail.
Without variables including medical and prescription needs, and where the inmate can be placed within the jail popular, Hagwood said it costs roughly $100 a day to incarcerate an individual in Plumas County. That’s worthy of repeating.
Four years ago, the state average was $114 per day, according to a study on California’s County Jails by the Public Policy Institute of California. The state has 117 jails in its 58 counties.
If an inmate is sentenced to a year in the local facility, that equates to $35,200. As with the individual who is sentenced to nine years in the facility, without variable costs, it is $316,800.
Compare that to the cost of being sentenced to prison. According to U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’ figures, the national average is $33,000 a year. In California, it’s $75,000.
In June, The LA Times stated it costs the state $75,560.