Sheriff reveals potential jail impacts
Aug. 20, 2013 — Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon addressed the impacts possible early prison releases may have at the local level.
A panel of three federal judges ordered California prisons to reduce the population by the end of the year to more adequately meet offenders’ medical and mental health needs. On Aug. 2, the United States Supreme Court refused to stop the ordered release of 10,000 inmates, which would get prisons to the population levels the panel requires.
Growdon addressed the issue during a Tuesday, Aug. 13 meeting of the Lassen County Board of Supervisors.
“(Governor Jerry Brown’s) office is currently working on other options to reduce prison populations including contracting with counties, private facilities and continuing to house offenders out of state. They don’t want to release those 10,000 offenders …” Growdon said.
The three judge panel recently clarified inmates already housed out of state can be continued, but not for additional ones. The governor also has authority to contract additional beds within the state and release frail or elderly and low-risk offenders.
“They’re trying not to release anybody, but in the end, I think some number of inmates is going to get released. I don’t think they’ll be able to accommodate all those offenders or get all those contracts in place by the end of the year,” Growdon said.
Potential local impacts may include an increased load on the criminal justice system, although there has been room at the county jail to house offenders, the issue has been having the right kind of space, and the impact on criminal activity occurring on the streets for both the sheriff’s office and the Susanville Police Department, according to Growdon.
Due to Assembly Bill 109 — Public Safety Realignment, low-level, non-violent offenders are sentenced to county jail rather than state prison and has already changed the atmosphere in the jail.
Growdon said there are a lot more criminally sophisticated inmates in the county jail and the employees feel it and see it with the type of incidents that occur, such as large fights, and it has become more like a regional prison.
“It’s just a different place than what it used to be,” he said. “Any additional offenders coming into our jail can hurt us.”
On the positive side there may be an opportunity to contract with the state to house inmates in the California Correctional Facility side of the jail, according to Growdon.
In 2011, the state ended a contract with the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office to operate the facility from a portion of the jail and housed low-level inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Growdon said, currently, the state is pursuing large contracts such as in Los Angeles County for 2,500 beds and Alameda County for 1,000 beds.
“So right now, our 130 beds really isn’t that enticing, but we’ve had some contact with them, told them we may have an interest in contracting, but they haven’t followed up yet. Obviously, with the budget climate it would be good if we could bring in some revenue so there’s some potential there. But I think the risk outweighs the potential reward with this whole early release.”
He also voiced his concern for the impact on the state as a whole whose criminal justice system is already overloaded.
“Fortunately, our jail hasn’t been full. We’ve been able to keep serious offenders locked up. But many counties, the jails are full. A serious offender gets arrested and they’re simply booked and released again to go commit more crime or prey on our communities,” Growdon said.
It’s being said many of the inmates being released early fall under realignment and local county supervision. He explained any inmate released early will be on state parole and be subject to revocation or could be sent back to state prison to serve any violations.
Growdon said, “The problem is, that all takes time. A parole agent arrests a parole violator, they come to the county jail until they have a hearing to determine what kind of violation they should serve.”
In a number of counties offenders aren’t even being held on parole violations.
Growdon explained, “A guy commits a parole violation and gets booked into the county jail, they’re going to immediately release him. That’s not the case for us, currently, but obviously it could have a significant impact across the state.”
Sheriff’s office personnel will continue working with the California State Sheriff’s Association and the governor’s office and come back as they learn more details of the real plan to reduce population and the impact on the communities, according to Growdon.
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