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Study: County jails might face housing shortage

Think tank releases report on state’s plan to move some prisoners to counties

Posted: November 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The year-old shift of inmates from state prisons to county-run jails means those jails will soon run out of space and crime will go up, the president of a law-enforcement advocacy group said Thursday.

Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a public-interest law organization, said realignment is a one-way ticket to increased levels of crime.

“My primary concern is how many people are going to be killed, robbed, raped or beaten before the state realizes this is a bad idea,” Rushford said.

According to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California, crime rates fell statewide in the first few months after the state began shifting inmates to county jails, but property crimes, such as vehicle theft or burglary, rose in that same time.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has been mulling the effects of the prisoner transfers for several weeks in a row. The issue is again on the board’s agenda at its next meeting, scheduled Wednesday because Tuesday is Election Day.

Tony Bell, a spokesman for Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, said realignment does not protect public safety and should be repealed.

“It was unnecessary to solve the prison overcrowding problem,” Bell said.

Under a plan called “realignment,” which began Oct. 1, 2011, state prisoners called “non-non-nons” — inmates whose crimes were nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual in nature — began being moved from state to county facilities.

The move was motivated in part by the state’s desire to transfer the costs of housing and managing prisoners to the counties and in part to comply with a federal court order to reduce overcrowding in the state’s 33 prisons.

Los Angeles County jails could soon run out of space, and like other county jail systems may have to examine new ways to save jail space, according to the report released in September by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.

Los Angeles County Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo told supervisors on Oct. 9 that inmates received as a result of realignment have pushed the county jail population to more than 19,000 inmates in a system with a total capacity of about 22,700.

Rhambo also said the county is receiving about 600 “non-non-non” prisoner transfers a month and releasing approximately 550 of them on parole.

Los Angeles County will eventually see more than 8,000 such prisoners once realignment is completed, according to projections from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Jerry Powers, the chief probation officer for Los Angeles County, said the rate of first-year recidivism — or relapse into criminal behavior tracked by arrests, convictions and returns to prison — for those released under realignment is 46 percent, though said he expects that rate to settle around 30 percent once all the numbers are in.

According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the three-year recidivism rate in Los Angeles County for 2007-2008, before realignment began, was 54 percent. Three-year recidivism rates for those released under the realignment program are not available.



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