California Sheriffs have been outspoken against prison realignment from the beginning. They were worried it would crowd local jails and force the release of criminals to our streets. In the year and half since, their worries have been confirmed. But there's another unexpected effect of AB 109 that's starting to show.
The problem is long term inmates. People who are sentenced to so-called ‘county prison’ for five or even ten years. They take up jail bed space for an extended period of time, and their numbers are growing.
Prior to October 2011, anyone sentenced to more than a year would serve their time in state prison. That all changed with AB 109.
“People that are sentenced for non violent, non sexual, and non serious crimes now are sentenced to county jail,” said Sheriffs Tom Bosenko
Now people convicted of burglary, theft, drug charges and some of the other most prevalent crimes are waiting out their sentences locally, clogging remaining jail space.
“That is a huge problem for long term care. Jails are not and were not designed for long term housing custody of inmates,” said Bosenko.
In Shasta County there are currently 14 people serving five-year terms and one person serving a ten-year term.
“Our jails never were meant for long term incarceration, they are not equipped for that. Now because of that, the inmate lawsuits that have cost the state of California billions of dollars have now marched out into our counties,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen on Wednesday.
In an effort to avoid a jail overcrowding lawsuit, Shasta County caps its inmate population at 343. As the number of long-termers grows the space for other offenders shrinks.
“That is another one of the fundamental problems with AB109. There is no room at the inn,” said Nielsen.
“People doing longer stints in jail, and parole violators are no longer going back to prison, that exacerbates the problem with jail overcrowding,” said said Bosenko.
But long-termers are doing more than just taking up space. They have more needs and therefore are more expensive to house. Medical care normally paid by the state, is now county responsibility. Shasta County recently signed a 2.6 million dollar contract to pay for inmate healthcare and that number is expected to go up.
As sheriffs struggle to make do, lawmakers are struggling to make changes. A bill is currently in the works that would send any offender to prison if they are sentenced to more than three years, regardless of their crime.
This problem is not just in Shasta County. Butte County has 23 inmates serving terms that are five years or longer, Tehama also has 20. Across the state there are more than 1,100 inmates serving five year terms, filling up county jails.