Prison realignment brings problems, opportunities to County Jail

While state prison realignment has presented challenges for local law enforcement, inmates who use new services and treatment programs have a lower risk of re-offending, a new study shows.

Since the 2011 passage of Assembly Bill 109, which created what is known as state prison realignment — sending people convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual lower-level crimes to county jails to reduce overcrowding in state prisons — the San Luis Obispo County Jail population has increased by more than 50 percent. That’s according to a county Probation Department report presented to the Board of Supervisors this week.

The report is the first of its kind in the county to provide hard statistics on the success of various programs now offered in County Jail and in the community after release.

The report specifically focuses on three strategic areas to reduce recidivism rates among those released from custody: jail housing, supervision and treatment.

Between 2010 and 2014, the jail population jumped by 57 percent, but the rate of increase slowed each year compared to the previous year, the report showed.

At any given time, about 30 percent of the County Jail population is an AB 109 offender.

Between October 2011 and June 2014, 689 people were sentenced under realignment guidelines, with 86 percent of those serving “straight” sentences with no post-custody supervision.

The alternative would be a split sentence with shorter jail time and a longer period of supervision after release.

The report says that growth in the use of split sentences has been slow, and that in December 2013, the Chief Probation Officers of California graded San Luis Obispo County as “below average” on the use of split sentencing compared to the statewide average.

The report says, however, that in January 2015, the use of split sentences will likely increase because of new legislation that presumes a split sentence option for people being sentenced under AB 109.

That change will reduce the number of jail inmates, the report says, but increase the number of cases supervised by the Probation Department.

Violence at the jail has increased under AB 109, with more criminally sophisticated inmates serving time there instead of in state prison. Assaults, gang politics and the number of inmates in protective custody have spiked under AB 109, the report said.

Meanwhile, former inmates on post-release supervision have a 33 percent probability of re-offending because AB 109 offenders significantly lack positive, pro-social outlets and more than 50 percent struggle with some form of drug or alcohol addiction, according to the report.

In response, the Probation Department has created a new unit composed of four officers, a supervisor and a legal clerk to handle the increased caseload. Each officer maintains an average of 50 cases.

The department also has increased its use of electronic GPS monitoring devices, with 11 percent of AB 109 offenders placed on electronic monitoring for an average of 87 days.

As of June, 508 AB 109 offenders had been released from custody.

As for treatment, 57 percent received case management services, 33 percent received some re-entry training and 30 percent received drug and alcohol treatment. An additional 21 percent received some in-custody services.

State funding has provided for the creation of a Jail Program Unit, which has expanded services for inmates in job training, mental health treatment, drug and alcohol treatment and conflict resolution.

Sober-living facilities for former inmates have also increased from 12 facilities in 2011 to 17 in 2014, with 154 beds now available in the county.

Though the sample size is low, the report says that of the 33 AB 109 offenders to successfully participate in drug and alcohol post-release treatment, only 15 percent have re-offended.