Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/19/2011 06:06:55 AM PST

San Bernardino County jailers are putting more inmates in work release programs and using electronic monitoring to make way for state prisoners.

With limited bed space, the county is taking on an challenging influx of inmates after the state handed responsibility for low-level prisoners to local jail officials last month in an unprecedented realignment of the California penal system.

Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chief Lance Clark, who oversees county corrections, has significantly expanded his electronic monitoring and work release programs in order to make room for the incoming inmates – non-sexual, non-violent, non-serious offenders.

The county has used increased funds from the state – about $25 million this fiscal year – for more staffing and resources at the jails and in its Probation Department.

Clark said he’s keeping the county’s 6,100 available beds at 90 percent capacity in order to maintain normal operations, so existing inmates are shifted to outside work release or electronic monitoring. The outside jail programs now see about 3,700 inmates, up from the 3,000 inmates prior to the start of realignment.

Clark said the county is expected to take on about 350 additional “triple-non” offenders on a monthly basis, or an additional 4,000 to 5,000 offenders in the next 12 to 14 months.

“We can’t fill up every bed because it prevents us from managing the inmate population,” Clark said. “We did a lot of pre-planning before realignment started. We greatly enhanced our work release and electronic monitoring programs and we’ve been able to maintain 90 percent over the last six months by expanding electronic monitoring and work release.”

Of concern to Clark is the fact that triple-non inmates are incarcerated for a longer period of time than typical jail inmates. The average length of stay for inmates prior to realignment was about six months. Now the average length is about 11 months, Clark said, with a projection that the average stay could last around 18 months in the future.

“Under the old system, we could have cycled four inmates for a bed during a six-month period, while now there is one inmate per bed during that time,” Clark said.

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