The number of state prisoners arriving in county jails under California's prison diversion program is much higher than estimated, adding more pressure on sheriff's departments to figure out what to do with thousands of extra inmates. Prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes began serving their time in county jails last month as California complied with a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the state to lower its prison population by 30,000.
However, the number of state prisoners being transferred has been much higher than predicted, prompting counties to speed up efforts to reopen shuttered jail wings and find other arrangements for some inmates. Los Angeles County was projected to add about 600 state prisoners, but has booked more than 900. The number in Orange County is running more than double what was estimated.
Based on initial projections, Orange County officials believed their jail system would reach capacity sometime in 2013, giving them time to find more jail beds. But if the current trend continues, they could reach capacity by May 2012. In Kern County, the jail system was so full to capacity last week that the Sheriff's Department let go 50 parole violators, including thieves, because they had no beds for them.
County jails in California receive extra state funding to help house the prisoners, but there are serious doubts about whether the money will be enough to avoid releasing some inmates. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca stated he is considering a plan to release some inmates who are awaiting trial after placing ankle electronicmonitors that track their movements. Other counties are considering major expansions of house-arrest programs, as well as putting some nonviolent inmates into mental health and substance abuse programs. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department has received funding to open only an additional 1,800 beds. However, they expect to receive 8,000 state prisoners in 2012.
Some California Counties, like Los Angeles, are under court order preventing jail overcrowding. So they said it's almost a foregone conclusion that some inmates will be released to make way for the state prisoners.
State corrections officials said they hadn't expected the plan known as realignment to be a smooth transition because it is such an unprecedented shift. They acknowledged that their estimates have been off but believe the surge will be short-lived.
State officials believe the higher than projected number of state prisoners being sent to county jails has occurred in part because defense attorneys waited until realignment took effect to settle their cases. By doing so, the criminal defense attorneys were assured that their clients would receive jail time instead of prison time. Many county officials say it's just a matter time before some inmates have to be released.
Riverside County Sheriff' said his jail is now at 93% capacity and will be full by January 2012. In San Bernardino County, they are planning to significantly expands their work-release and electronic monitoring programs because thay are certain that the influx of state prisoners will force some releases.
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