Inyo County is prepared to handle an expected influx of prisoners and probationers that will result from California’s Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011.
In an effort to alleviate overcrowding in state prisons, California will be realigning low-level, non-violent felony offenders from the state correctional system to locally-run, community-based jails.
To accomplish that, the state has changed the legal definition of more than 500 non-violent, non-serious and non-sex offender felony crimes to provide for punishment via local jail time. Under realignment, the sentence for those crimes will remain the same, but time served will take place in jails and not prisons.
Inyo County Chief Probation Officer Jeff Thomson said prisoners will not be transferred from state prisons to jails, and those who are currently incarcerated will remain in state custody. However, new offenders will be sentenced to local jails to serve out their full sentence. When they are released, they will not have parole or probation in the traditional sense.
Where the county will likely see the greatest impact is how realignment impacts parolees.
According to Thomson, parolees leaving state prison will fall under the supervision of the county probation department, and not the state parole office. Parolees who violate the terms of their parole will be sent to local jails instead of state prisons.
“The truth is, we’re probably going to get some bad guys,” Thomson said.
Inyo County Probation Officer Jacob Morgan said the Probation Department is prepared to increase supervision for serious offenders who fall under their jurisdiction. “I actually prefer that Probation is handling these guys, and not Parole, because Parole is based out of Bakersfield” and does not always have the resources or ability to provide the supervision some offenders need.
To assist the county with the potential influx of prisoners created by realignment, judges presiding over a non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offender case can suspend part of a sentence and release the offender on community supervision with conditions similar to probation.
Also, jail inmates will be able to serve half their time in jail and half their time on home detention with electronic monitoring.
Felony offenders who are eligible for electronic monitoring will be required to spend 60 days in custody post-arraignment and misdemeanor offenders will be required to spend 30 days in jail before they are eligible for electronic monitoring.
Thomson said Inyo County will also be utilizing community service and work release options that allow offenders to serve their sentence outside of the county jail.
Though Inyo County does have some resources to help cope with the changes realignment will implement, there are some concerns.
Thomson said that the state has not guaranteed any long-term funding to local jurisdictions that will be taking in new inmates.
He said that “fiscally responsible decision-making and criminal justice policy must become the norm without sacrificing public safety.”
To accomplish that, he said his department will develop a system that will allow staff to constantly measure and re-measure the outcome of different programs and policies, such as the home detention and electronic monitoring, to see if they are effective. He added that if programs like those mentioned above see a high rate of recidivism, they will be terminated.
“If we fail to do this, we will find ourselves in the same situation the state and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did prior to realignment with skyrocketing recidivism rates and unable to support and service the population that previously was the responsibility of the state,” Thomson said.
He added that the responsibility of maintaining public safety while monitoring inmates and parolees will rely on communication and open dialogue with the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, Superior Court and the District Attorney’s Office to ensure the policies practiced by the county are effective.
“While criminal justice realignment presents the most significant challenge ever faced by the Inyo County Justice System and local treatment providers, the ultimate goal of public safety can be achieved with effective communication, collaboration and fiscally responsible decision-making with respect to our limited resources,” Thomson said.