Realignment hasn’t led to massive jail overcrowding; crime impacts unclear.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
The county jail has managed to avert serious overcrowding by allowing some low-level arrestees off without bail, sending some offenders to substance abuse programs, and implementing other population reduction measures.
Last October, the statewide prison realignment enacted under 2011’s AB 109 went into effect, sending non-violent offenders who would have gone to state prisons to county jails instead.
County officials were concerned an influx of more than 300 inmates would be too much for an already overcrowded jail, which is doubling up single occupancy cells.
Now, the jail population is the same as it was before the realignment, even though a quarter of the inmates now are would-be state prisoners.
“The jail is chronically over-capacitated,” says Nancy Hatton, adult division director for Monterey County Probation Department. “Our job is to keep it manageable for them.”
The county has done this by using several methods to uncrowd the jail.
For one, the realignment law changed county jail sentencing rules, allowing inmates to earn more jail time credits for good behavior. This means, for example, a one year sentence could be reduced to 6 months jail time in what previously would have been 9 months for good behavior. These new rules align with what has always been state prison policy.
The county is expanding other efforts, like sending some offenders to residential substance-abuse programs and putting others on electronic monitoring. A measure called pre-trial release allows some people who have been arrested – like DUI offenders – out of jail pending trial without having to pay bail, though they may be subject to conditions and supervision.
Allen Hopper, director of criminal justice and drug policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, says Monterey County is one of the few places in the state with a pre-trial release program. “We think that’s a move in the right direction,” he says. “Far too many end up languishing behind bars because they can’t afford to pay a bondsman.”
The county’s anti-overcrowding methods have allowed the jail population to hold steady at its regular capacity of about 1,050 much of the year. The county had planned to contract jail space from other counties, but has not yet had to resort to that.
Of the 447 people released on a pre-trial basis, only 11 failed to appear for court, says Jeff Budd, the Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy. This pre-trial program has recently been expanded to allow more low-level offenders to participate.
However, Hopper says county judges need to make more use of “split sentencing,” a tool put forth by the realignment law that allows part of a jail sentence to be served under mandatory supervision, similar to parole, that includes options like job-training and substance-abuse programs.
Now the county needs to evaluate how the anti-overcrowding measures are working, Chief Probation Officer Manuel Real says. “Has there been an increase in crime? And if there is, can that be tied back to [realignment]?” he asks.
The county is hoping for an early analysis of realignment early next year, followed by a more in-depth look.
But as far as Real can tell, “I think we’re doing OK so far.”