Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Created: 09/30/2011 11:04:50 AM PDT

Responsibility for incarcerating and rehabilitating low-level criminal offenders transfers today from state to county oversight – a radical move some officials fear will lead to increased crime in the state.

In Los Angeles County, the realignment under Assembly Bill 109, would shift responsibility for about 8,300 inmates in the jails, and nearly 10,000 in the county probation system over the next four years, officials said.

San Bernardino County expects to see about 2,500 additional offenders in jails and 2,500 extra offenders under probation.

Local officials said there aren’t enough jail beds to handle all of the new inmates, so some would be released earlier.

“I think it’s pretty much a general consensus, that we expect the crime rate to go up,” said Lance Clark, deputy chief of corrections for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. “At what rate, we don’t know, but the conventional thinking in law enforcement is the entire realignment program is going to negatively impact the crime rate in the state of California.”

Realignment means judges will no longer sentence non-violent, lower-level offenders to state prison for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft, forgery, counterfeiting and drug possession for sale. Instead, nearly 26,000 convicts who would previously have gone to state prison are expected to serve their time in county jails where, proponents say, they will be closer to home, jobs and rehabilitation programs and so will be less likely to commit new crimes after they are released.

Critics say counties have neither the money nor the bed space to cope with the coming wave of inmates.

San Bernardino County has 6,100 beds and is handling about 6,000 inmates. It’s expecting to handle 400 extra inmates at any given time with the realignment.

“The law-abiding public is going to pay a huge price as they become the victims of a tremendously spiking crime rate,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who attributes years of dropping crime rates throughout California to the many sentencing enhancements available to prosecutors.

“We are abandoning a system that was working,” Cooley said.

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