More in SLO County Jail means more post-jail aid

With their sentences being served locally, inmates establish local ties and get more help for life after confinement

jhickey@thetribunenews.comAugust 25, 2013 

County Jail inmates prepare to leave the main dorm for a search of the room in 2012. The unit had 47 residents that day but has a maximum capacity of 62.


Realignment has drastically increased the population at County Jail, but it has also brought needed changes to reduce recidivism: money for treatment programs and time for inmates to complete them.

“Prior to the changes realignment bought, our population was transient,” said Alison Ordille, newly hired jail program manager.

Inmates would be transferred from the jail to prison after sentencing and return to San Luis Obispo County months or years later as hardened people with limited local ties, Correctional Lt. Michelle Cole said.

Realignment, signed into law in April 2011, shifted the responsibility for housing certain nonviolent offenders from the state to county governments, so that low-level offenders and parole violators now serve their full sentences at County Jail — where there is increased funding for mental health treatment, job and life-skills training, and post-release supervision. 

With realignment, “the opportunity exists to stay here, have visits with family, and receive programming in a local facility,” Cole said. “We don’t have the stats yet to say, ‘This is working,’ but to me, it’s an interesting concept.”

Substance abuse affects 60 to 70 percent of inmates at County Jail, and with it comes a high risk of recidivism, said Ordille, who supervised 19 drug courts in San Diego County before the San Luis Obispo County Jail hired her with funds from Assembly Bill 109.

For years before realignment, the jail only provided GED training and testing and ESL testing, but no substance-abuse help, Cole said.

“We were only meeting the requirements. … There were gaps. Instead of shooting in the dark, now we’re focused,” she said.

Participation in jail treatment programs is voluntary. 

Realignment funding is assigned to counties based on their size and the number of offenders they house. For the fiscal year 2012-13, San Luis Obispo County was allocated more than $5.1 million, with an additional carry-over from the previous year of $386,320, according to a report that Jim Salio, the county’s chief probation officer, recently made to the Board of Supervisors.

One of the biggest changes realignment has brought to the jail is a partnership with the county Probation Department and Drug and Alcohol Services, because the law requires a Community Corrections Partnership between the agencies.

“For the longest time, I felt the jail operated as a standalone facility — out of sight, out of mind,” Cole said. “Now there is an opportunity to problem-solve.”

The San Luis Obispo County inmate population faces different challenges after release than residents of other counties may encounter: Jobs and affordable housing are scarce, mental health facilities are limited, and there is no detox center.

“It’s hard enough for anybody to get a job up here, let alone that someone has to deal with (incarceration),” Ordille said.

Many inmates are largely untrained; some have never worked.

“If they can’t work, and they need money, they are gonna commit a crime and recidivate,” Ordille said.

That’s why plans are in the works to contract with an outside vendor to provide six-month vocational training certificates for skills such as cabling, electrical wiring and fiber optics.

In addition, many community volunteers provide free services to jail inmates, such as yoga and meditation.

“We now have to pick and choose. Our schedules are getting robust,” Ordille said.

But the changes are only beginning. First on the priority list is creating an adequate substance-abuse training program — then providing vocational training opportunities and addressing other needs.

“If I am dreaming big, I am saying we are 15 to 20 percent there,” Ordille said.

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