Saturday, February 13 , 2016, 10:32 am | Fog/Mist 54º

Federal Judges Order 10,000 Prison Inmates Released to Reduce Overcrowding

Sheriff Bill Brown says mandate, in conjunction with California's realignment, 'will exacerbate problems' at the local level

The Santa Barbara County Jail has had problems with overcrowding for decades. A new 376-bed North County Jail is planned near Santa Maria.
The Santa Barbara County Jail has had problems with overcrowding for decades. A new 376-bed North County Jail is planned near Santa Maria.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

A panel of three federal judges has ordered Gov. Jerry Brown to reduce prison overcrowding by releasing nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of the year, but the state is challenging the decision.

The judicial panel, which oversees the California prison system, had previously ordered the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity.

Public safety realignment, enacted through Assembly Bill 109, redistributed nonviolent prison inmates to county jails, where they would serve their time under supervision by county probation departments instead of state parole authorities.

It was a plan to work on overcrowding in state prisons, but county law enforcement, in turn, has been placing more inmates in alternative sentencing programs due to more prison-level inmates being booked into jails.

Last March, one inmate was sentenced to serve 23 years in the Santa Barbara County Jail, which traditionally only holds inmates waiting for trial or sentenced for one year or less.

Sheriff Bill Brown said releasing thousands of prisoners early “who are ill-prepared to re-enter society is an irresponsible act that defies common sense.”

This, in addition to the realignment, would exacerbate problems at the county level, he said in a statement Friday.

“Releasing prisoners by expanding already-generous early release credits degrades our state’s criminal justice system,” Brown said.

He and the State Sheriffs Association support Gov. Brown’s efforts to stay the judicial order and appeal the panel’s prison population cap.

Santa Barbara County has been overcrowded for decades and is working on a funding plan for a new 376-bed North County Jail near Santa Maria. The county has received some state funding to help with capital costs, but officials still don’t know how to pay for operating and staffing costs, estimated at $18 million per year.

The State Sheriffs Association said the federal judicial order is a threat to public safety, and the requirement to get prisons down to 137.5 percent of capacity would mean releasing more than 9,000 inmates early.

Implementing realignment is still a work in progress, and 30 counties have jails under a court-ordered or self-imposed population cap, CSSA president Sheriff Greg Ahern said in a statement.

“These facilities simply cannot absorb the wave of criminality that would come with an immediate release of such a large number of inmates,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 06.22.13 @ 08:49 AM

The consequences of Three Strikes.  What a stupid law.

» on 06.22.13 @ 10:42 AM

As someone who was just recently sentenced to serve 60 in county jail I am thankful I will be able to serve my time with a work alternative program instead of sitting in jail.  Although experiencing the attitudes and personalities of the sheriff deputy’s who staff the jail and the work program I would much rather sit in jail for a couple of weeks and would take the chance of a early release if I wasn’t employed, I can still sincerely say I will never trust the cops.  You have to show respect to earn respect.

» on 06.22.13 @ 01:01 PM

“Now” Bill Brown has a fit about prisoners being released in to our communities?? This started in October 2011, with the Sheriff knowing long before that time when it would begin…what does he do? Shuts down the North County jail in Santa Maria that could have housed 40-50 inmates. And blames it all on the economy, when in fact he spent the money on more helicopters we didn’t need. Closing the jail also put a dramatic burden on Santa Maria, Guadalupe and Lompoc police departments.  Now an officer is taken off the streets, not able to protect your family or business, so they can drive the arrestee to Santa Barbara, fill out paperwork, possibly take them to the hospital, etc. By the time this is complete their shift is over and our streets are not safer. Is it a co-incidence that Bill is only paying attention to this now because he’s up for re-election and his opponent is calling him out on this and other issues? As long as he gets a “new” North County Jail, that’s all he cares about.

» on 06.22.13 @ 01:37 PM

Did I miss something, or is there no mention of the type of criminal to be released? I would hope there’s enough common sense present that no one convicted of a violent crime will be released, and it would be mostly check-forgers, petty embezzlers, pot-sellers, etc.
Is Brown just trying to scare people when he warns of a “wave of criminality” or is he more or less accurate? This is information that journalists should be providing the public.

» on 06.23.13 @ 03:36 PM

Who says crime doesn’t pay? We’ve reached the tipping point folks, now this state will really turn to poop… Thanks again liberal democrats!  I personally don’t give a rats behind about if a criminal is “crowded”.

» on 06.23.13 @ 06:00 PM

So they let all the Mexicans Blacks out along with the White welfare food stamp trash. Losers all of them, unwanted welfare babies.

Thanks Democrats, but if they kill your family members what will you do people.

Vote the dim wit Dems out.

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