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Over the years, criminals who committed serious felonies in California were housed in state prisons. Due to serious overcrowding, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state must reduce its prison inmate population by 30,000. Starting October 1, 2011, a new realignment will be underway in the California prison system which will have an impact on all counties, especially Orange County.

The Realignment Plan will mean more felons being housed in county jails for the duration of their sentences instead of being sent to state prisons. According to the new legislation, prisoners who are sentenced to less than three years will serve their time in county jail.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision comes after it was determined that the severe overcrowding in California state prisons was cruel and unusual punishment and violated prisoners’ rights.

Sex offenders and violent criminals will not be transferred into county jails. Those who have been convicted of lesser crimes, such as burglary, drug sale and possession and grand theft will be among those who are sent to county detention facilities.

Orange County Jail Plans

For Orange County jails, it is estimated that 1,460 inmates who would have been sent to a state prison will now be remaining in the county jail for the first year. Parole violators will also no longer be sent to state prison but will serve time at the county jail. This could be anywhere from a ten day “flash incarceration” to six months, depending on the severity of the violation.

The realignment does not mean that Orange County will see a flood of state prisoners right away. Judges will instead alter their sentencing procedures which will result in a steady dribble of prisoners to the county facilities.

The Orange County Theo Lacy Jail will probably be impacted most by realignment. It is the largest of the county’s detention centers and has the structure needed to deal with state prisoners. The jail can house nearly 3,000 inmates.

The deputies overseeing the jail will require more training in order to be better prepared for the more serious inmates that will be housed there.

With this influx of more serious offenders and lengthier sentences being served in the jail, there is concern that the culture inside of the county jail could alter for the worse. It has also been discovered that the Mexican Mafia has had influence in county jails.

The Orange County jails have a very low ratio of deputies to inmates in the nation, approximately 1:50. New classes are underway at the academy with most deputies beginning their careers in the county jails.

Source: The Orange County Register, "State to begin sending inmates to O.C." by Salvador Hernandez and Sean Emery

Published: 10/10/2011