San Diego County plans for early state prisoner release while opposing it

An early release of state prisoners expected this year would have a negative impact on public safety in San Diego County, because many released offenders would commit new crimes, county officials said

The prisoner release may also strain a county jail system already pushing capacity because of “realignment,” the state’s 2011 law that sends some sentenced felons to local jail instead of state prison, officials said.

“This is clearly something that is very deeply concerning to all of us in the community,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said.

County supervisors recently voted to oppose the planned release of state prisoners, but to devise measures to ease weekend spikes in jail populations in case the release happens.

The potential prisoner release comes after a recent ruling by a federal three-judge court confirmed the panel’s earlier orders directing the state to reduce its overcrowded prison system to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year. Gov. Jerry Brown is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the federal order, the state could release 400 to 800 prisoners into San Diego County by the end of the year. Based on historical rates of re-offense, half of the released felons could be expected to commit new crimes within a year, county officials said.

Previous efforts to deal with the influx of inmates under realignment include a 400-bed re-entry facility at the East Mesa Detention Center scheduled to open next year and holding up to 300 prisoners at home on electronic monitoring or GPS in the sheriff’s new County Parole and Alternative Custody Unit.

Jail capacity is pushing 100 percent each weekend, with 32 percent of inmates there due to realignment, the county reports.

“All of this forward thinking aside, we can’t stop thinking innovatively,” Supervisor Ron Roberts said.

The supervisors’ action on Tuesday directed the district attorney, sheriff, public defender and county criminal justice staff to use technology and innovative ways to reduce spikes in jail populations over the weekends and holidays.

Roberts said this could mean video arraignments or weekend courts.

Jail populations spike over the weekend because people arrested on Friday, Saturday and Sunday have no court hearing until Monday or Tuesday. At those hearings, some people are released without charges, and some low-level offenders are released on bail.

Dumanis said that, despite the county’s opposition to the state’s prisoner reduction plans, the county and Superior Court would work together to respond.

Staff was directed to report back to the supervisors in 90 days to detail new measures that would reduce weekend jail populations.

   
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