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Prison realignment is showing its stripes

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In the first week of October, six men were sentenced in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Their crimes included receiving stolen property, grand theft and possession of a controlled substance. Their sentences varied from 16 months to four years.

But they all have one thing in common: Before Oct. 1, they would have served their sentences in state prison. Now, because of a new state policy that took effect 11 days ago, they’ll spend that time in County Jail instead.

County Sheriff Ian Parkinson is keeping close tabs on exactly how many new inmates are sentenced to serve time locally. He had expected nine additional inmates by the end of October — not the six added the first week.

“We are paying particular attention to that,” Parkinson told county supervisors Tuesday during an update on the so-called public safety realignment plan.

The new policy, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April, redirects lower-level offenders convicted of certain nonviolent, nonserious, nonsexual crimes to serve their time in county jails instead of state prisons.

The county jail facility off Highway 1 — which houses on average 600 inmates — is expected to hold an additional 120 to 150 inmates by June 2013.

In addition, inmates with lower-level felony convictions released from state prison will now be supervised through the county probation department rather than state parole.

The plan is intended to help California save money and comply with a federal court order to reduce its prison population. The state is expected to give the county $2.3 million this fiscal year, plus an additional $305,000 for one-time planning and startup costs.

Locally, the change will add more inmates to a cramped jail facility, increase the workload in the court system and give the probation department more people to supervise.

But county officials are also using it as an opportunity to increase rehabilitation efforts for inmates, including more treatment options and training programs, with a goal of reducing recidivism.

Several county departments have worked together to develop a new re-entry program to help inmates who have served more than six months behind bars transition back into the community.

A partnership between the probation and drug and alcohol departments will provide more support for those with substance-abuse issues, said county behavioral health administrator Karen Baylor. County staff also hopes to use some state money to pay for 24 additional spots at sober-living facilities.

In the jail, two modular units will be renovated to accommodate up to 48 female inmates, and 30 beds will be added to the main dorm, which houses male inmates, Parkinson said. By January, his department will hire 17 new jail staffers —15 correctional deputies, a correctional sergeant and a cook.

Parkinson also plans to double the capacity of the Sheriff’s Department home detention program to 60 participants at a time. The program allows low-risk inmates with sentences of 10 days or more to serve their jail time at home.

County probation officials will create a new five-person unit to supervise inmates released from state prison, said Jim Salio, county chief probation officer. By next June, his department could supervise an additional 171 people, but he wants to keep caseloads for probation officers at the same 50-to-1 ratio.

The department will reallocate current employees to the unit and fill those empty spots with new hires, Salio said.

Next year, the county’s program would cost $4 million — but state funding is not yet assured. Brown wants to place a measure before voters in November 2012 that would guarantee the long-term funding that counties will need to make the realignment work.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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