Riverside County officials are concerned about where to house low-risk inmates who are sentenced to county jails, rather than state prison, under a plan that took effect Oct. 1. County jails, including the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, above, are already at capacity.

BY DUANE W. GANG
STAFF WRITER
dgang@pe.com

Published: 24 October 2011 08:12 PM

Jail space remains one of the most critical issues facing Riverside County as it begins supervising and housing low-level offenders, local officials said Monday.

Sheriff Stan Sniff said the county’s jails could be full by January, and contracting with the state for additional beds could cost as much as $35 million a year under a worst-case scenario.

“In this county, we are in the midst of a perfect storm, because we already have a small, undersized jail system,” Sniff said. “Now an added workload is being pushed down by the state of California.”

The comments came during a three-hour public forum on what is known as public-safety realignment, which began Oct. 1. Under the plan, low-risk offenders scheduled for release from prison now are under the jurisdiction of county probation, rather than state parole agents.

The parolees’ crimes are classified as nonviolent, nonserious and, for sex offenders, non-high-risk. In addition, those newly convicted of such crimes will serve their sentences in county jails, rather than in state prison.

Already, in the first three weeks of realignment, judges sentenced 99 people to county jail under the plan, Superior Court Judge Michelle Levine said. An additional 70 people were sentenced to perform portions of their terms in county jail. Over the same period, 196 people were sentenced to state prison.

Supervisor John Tavaglione hosted the forum in part to reassure residents that the plan, authorized by AB109, is not an early release of state inmates.

“These are individuals we would have gotten back anyway,” Tavaglione said. “But now they are going to be supervised by the local probation offices.”

The county has 3,904 jail beds, and during a typical year will book 60,000 people into the system as they are arrested for crimes and await trial.

Based on 2010 data, realignment could put more than 5,700 additional inmates in the county jail system – about 2,200 newly convicted of crimes and about 3,400 parole violators. This translates into the need for 400 additional jail beds per day, according to the county.

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