Published: 12 November 2011 09:04 PM

After one month, the state’s decision to put counties in charge of some nonserious offenders has caused a spike in Riverside County’s already dense jail population, putting it on course to reach capacity in January, officials report.

About 190 newly sentenced inmates who would have gone to state prison before the change, called realignment, were instead serving their time in county jail. In addition, hundreds of parole violators who also would have been sent to prison are now taking up jail beds.

The trend was one area of concern reported by probation, sheriff’s and court officials contacted in Riverside and San Bernardino counties after a month of realignment, which began Oct. 1. Officials in San Bernardino County, which has more jail space and sentencing options, said they are not worried yet about jails filling up.

The big inmate shuffle

Realignment is part of California’s effort to meet a federal court order to reduce its overcrowded prison population by 33,000 over the next two years.

Under the $6.3 billion statewide program, oversight and incarceration of nonviolent, nonsexual and nonserious offenders and ex-offenders was transferred from the state to counties.

People convicted of such crimes will now serve their sentences in county jail rather than state prison, and after their release will be supervised by county probation officers rather than state parole agents. In addition, nonviolent parole violators are being sent to jail rather than state prison.

While fears had been expressed about newly released ex-convicts committing crimes, the most immediate impact has been an increase of inmates in Riverside County jails, where there is no prospect of new beds any time soon.

The jail once housed an average of 200 parole violators who were headed for prison, said Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez, responsible for corrections operations in the county jail system.

But last week Riverside County jails had about 300 such inmates, and that number was as high as 550 during October, he said. These are not newly released ex-prisoners, but previous parolees whose violations now fall under the realignment category.

“Before October, they were waiting to go to prison,” Gutierrez said. “Now they are staying with us.”

Between the realignment sentences and the influx of parole violators, inmate occupancy went from 83 to 85percent of capacity before Oct. 1 to 91 to 93 percent after that date, Gutierrez said.

The average stay for an inmate went from about 240 days to two years and one month, Gutierrez said. He said officials left out of that equation the longest realignment sentence, 14 years and four months, because of the skew it would have caused.

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