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The impact of inmates

Majority of criminals recently imported to SCV’s jails are not problematic, but the numbers are

Posted: March 18, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: March 18, 2012 1:30 a.m.

The real impact of inmates transferred to the Santa Clarita Valley from state prisons lies in the sheer number of bodies behind bars, local jailers say.

“The fear has been that these inmates pose a greater risk to the community,” said Lt. Mark McCorkle, who heads custody operations at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

“What we’re finding is that they’re actually a little easier to manage,” he said. “It’s more the numbers that create the headaches for us.”

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must drastically reduce its prison population by some 33,000 inmates over the next two years.

The decision prompted local jailers to re-open all closed facilities at Pitchess in anticipation of the transfer.

When the transfer finally got under way in October, Los Angeles County officials expected to take in 171 state inmates every week, with some of those inmates ending up at Pitchess.

After 22 weeks of transfer, 3,709 inmates have been added to county jails, including Pitchess, driving the overall population of people behind bars to more than 17,000.

Some of those state inmates are serving sentences as long as 16 years in county jail, according to county officials.

At present, Pitchess is home to 6,630 inmates.

Every week since October, county jailers have locked up 171 state inmates as anticipated.

And while jailers haven’t witnessed a problem with the influx of state inmates inside local jails, local law enforcement officials still have concerns about the same inmates being released locally.

The state inmates are called “non-non-non” — or N3s, for short — meaning they’re sentenced for crimes considered “nonsexual, nonviolent and nonserious.”

The inmate-release program — called prison realignment by state officials — still has some county officials worried.
Capt. Paul Becker, who heads the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, said the N3 classification often does not accurately reflect the true nature of the released inmate.

“The N3 classification is based on the charge at the time of inmate’s incarceration,” he said. “Yet, that inmate’s history may show us a much different profile.”

The worry for Becker and some other county officials, including Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich,  is that violent criminals jailed for minor offenses are being released into communities.

More than 5,700 state parolees had been transferred to county probation supervision in early March, according to county officials, and 1,433 have been re-arrested for new crimes.

“When we look at the number of narcotics and theft offenses, we find we’re getting a lot of the post-released inmates,” Becker said. “Very simply, we are getting a large number of (convicted and incarcerated) people dropping back into our community.”

Filling up
Much of the county-run detention center in Castaic was emptied of inmates in March 2010 in a cost-cutting move, freeing up nearly 2,500 beds.
Then came the directive from Gov. Jerry Brown calling on counties to assume some state parole oversight functions, as well as incarcerating some state prison inmates.
Pitchess can and will accommodate the anticipated influx of inmates — most expected to be transferring out of state prisons — on the condition that funding for the move is made available to the county, McCorkle told The Signal when the transfers began.
After 22 weeks, state funding for the transfer remains in place, accepted albeit begrudgingly by some county politicians opposed to the plan.
Antonovich warned his constituents in the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, to brace for increased crime as the state prepared to release thousands of inmates across 58 counties.
Those fears expressed by the supervisor seem to have been borne out by the latest county statistics on recidivism.
“Contrary to (Brown’s) comments that realignment is a ‘bold’ step, it is actually a reckless and pathetic shirking of the state’s responsibility to its citizens,” Antonovich said at the beginning of the transfer.
“The governor’s statement: ‘There’s no turning back; the only way is forward’ is stupid when his only way forward is falling off a cliff,” Antonovich said, calling the plan a “Trojan horse.”
On Thursday, Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said the supervisor still thinks the governor is acting recklessly and still stands opposed to the transfer.
“Shirking state responsibilities to the counties — in lieu of spending cuts and structural reform — may inevitably lead to bankrupt local governments, curtailed municipal services, and a severely overwhelmed public safety system,” Bell said.


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