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Inside The Jails

California county jails are filling up quickly with inmates from state prisons. This is in direct response to the Supreme Court ruling which found that the severe overcrowding in those prisons was unacceptable. Los Angeles County jails will likely be the first to run out of space as soon as next month. This potential influx has county officials considering the possibility of releasing thousands of inmates who are awaiting trial.

Under the new "realignment plan", as it is called, criminals who would once have been sent to a California prison to serve their sentences will instead be housed in county jails. An estimated 8,000 inmates will be entering into the Los Angeles County corrections system over the next year.

At this time, it is estimated that nearly 70% of the inmate population is comprised of defendants who are waiting for trial. Sheriff Lee Baca believes that that number will have to drop to 50%. To aid in this decrease, the sheriff’s department is looking into the expansion of the electronic monitoring and house arrest programs.

A risk-assessment system is being developed by the department, as well, which will enable them to identify inmates who will be the best candidates for pretrial release. Efforts are also being made to find alternative programs for inmates that will be more beneficial, such as educational and substance abuse programs.

According to a report from the LA County District Attorney’s office, it is believed that California County jails will reach their capacity by the end of the year. So far, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department only has funds available to add an extra 1,800 beds to the correction’s system, a number that falls far short of the expected population increase.

Discussions of the early release of pretrial inmates have sparked major concerns, in both local law enforcement and the DA’s offices. Los Angeles Police Chief, Charlie Beck, thinks that having more offenders on the street will lead to a 3 percent increase in crime.

Another concern is that the defendants will fail to return to court when their trials are set to begin if they are not incarcerated. Prosecutors also fear that inmates on pretrial release could attempt to intimidate witnesses before the start of their trial.

Because of the severe overcrowding in California jails over the last several years, the early release of inmates has always been a possibility. The Sheriff’s Department is now under pressure to release inmates who have served only a fraction of their sentences in order to eliminate this problem.

More than 150,000 inmates have been released from jail between 2002 and 2006 due to the extreme population issues that California prisons have been dealing with. Of the number released in 2006, an estimated 16,000 inmates were rearrested, sixteen of them charged with murder.

Source: L.A. County jails may be out of room by Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

Published: 11/13/2011