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Jail realignment gets mixed reviews
Officials say county avoiding pitfalls
A year ago this week the state of California began shifting thousands of inmates from state facilities to county facilities or place them on parole. The verdict on how well the program is working is still not certain.
While counties like Fresno and Kern have had troubles with inmates being released unsupervised, Tulare County has been fortunate so far, say county officials.
"I’m not ready to call it a success yet,” Tulare County Public Defender Mike Salazar told the board of supervisors recently, “but this community is functioning very well together. We do have a success story in the making.”
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109 into law in 2010 and on Oct. 1, 2011, realignment began.
In the first nine months of the program Tulare County has seen more than 500 offenders subject to supervision and the sheriff’s department had received 339 inmates with 133 of those released for either time served or to community supervision. As of July 1, the county housed 206 inmates that were part of jail realignment.
Tulare County will received $11.7 million this fiscal year to handle realignment, with the bulk of that going to the county jail system to house the new inmates.
However, probation got $4.7 million of that total with the district attorney, public defender and Health and Human Services mental health department each getting small amounts.
Not everyone is sold on jail realignment.
Porterville Police Chief Chuck McMillan said he “does not like it.”
“It’s been an added burden on us,” he added, but said Tulare County has had fewer problems than other counties.
“County-wide, our sheriff is doing everything possible to keep these people in custody,” said the chief.
However, McMillan said his officers are having to deal with more and more parolees who are violating their parole. He said having to deal with those criminals he feels should be behind bars means his officers are not doing enough intervention and prevention efforts.
Also, he said, the notification process when a parolee is released is “crazy. We’re running into people we didn’t even know they were out.”
Christie Myer, who was just named county Probation Chief, said the working relationship among the affected departments has made realignment work in Tulare County.
“What we have is very unique here. It’s a public partnership,” she noted.
The county has been successful in not only keeping inmates in custody — Fresno County continues to early release prisoners — it has also been successful in helping many of the parolees find help to keep them from coming back to jail.
The county’s recidivism rate is a miniscule 2.2% and just 3.7% for those who have been convicted of a new offense.
“It appears we are achieving the objectives,” noted Supervisor Steven Worthley. Supervisor Pete Vander Poel agreed. “We’re putting more efforts to correct these offenders and turn their lives around,” he said.
The county inmate population has been impacted in many ways. One, criminals sentenced to more than one year in jail are no longer sent to state prison if that sentence is three years or less. Second, the state has sent some prisoners to the counties and third, those on parole or probation are being returned to custody locally instead of state prison.
Tulare County Sheriff’s Lt. Robin Skiles, who heads up the county jail system, said that all pods (wings) of the county pre-trial jail have now been opened to house the influx of prisoners, but so far the county has not experienced overcrowding issues.
Undersheriff Dahl Cleek said so far realignment has succeeded better than anyone expected.
“We have worked well together,” he said, noting all departments have worked to keep those on probation under watch and those being released given help to keep them from returning to a life of crime.
Assembly member Connie Conway (R-Tulare), however, put out a scorecard last month questioning the savings of realignment.
“The Corrections/Public Safety Realignment budget in 2011-12 was $9.6 billion, roughly the same as the previous year. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the only significant budgetary savings from realignment in 2011-12 was the result of reducing education funding by $2.1 billion,” pointed out Conway.
She added that the 2012-13 Corrections/Public Safety Realignment budget increased by over $200 million from the previous year, despite the fact that 29,000 felons are expected to leave the state system by June 2013 and local agencies will take control of 64,000 parolees.
The impact on local communities was not lost on Conway.
“Communities across California are dealing with the chilling impact of Public Safety Realignment — and the results have been tragic in many instances,” she said, adding local jails are experiencing overcrowding and other impacts that have forced local sheriffs to release prisoners before they complete their sentence. By 2015, the Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates that 7,500 prisoners will be housed in county jails with sentences of three years or more.
McMillan says he feels as if the state is moving backwards.
“We use fancy words like accountability and were not holding them (criminals) accountable,” he said.