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Influx of State Prisoners Straining Santa Barbara County Justice System

Local law enforcement officials say jail facilities have seen 24 percent more inmates than expected under Assembly Bill 109

The influx of state prison inmates to local jail facilities continues to be a challenge facing Santa Barbara County’s justice system, and the Board of Supervisors heard Tuesday from Sheriff’s Department officials about the impacts.

Assembly Bill 109 is the “public safety realignment bill” aimed at reducing overcrowding, costs and recidivism in state prisons. The bill produces cost savings for the state by allowing more convicted criminals to serve their sentences in county jails rather than be sent to state prisons. 

Before that bill, a sentenced inmate could spend a maximum of one year in county jail, but sentence times are increasing exponentially as more serious offenders stay in local lockups. 

In March, one man was sentenced to serve 23 years in the Santa Barbara County Jail.

Realignment brings the most significant changes the criminal justice system has seen in more than 30 years, Probation Chief Beverly Taylor told the supervisors on Tuesday. Since October 2011, the county has seen 24 percent more state prisoners than expected.

It’s been a “considerable increase in workload” for all areas of law enforcement, including jail, probation, courts, the District Attorney’s Office and the public defender, she said.

An increase in what Taylor called “NX3s” will be serving time in local custody. Those are people who have committed non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex-related offenses, usually involving drug sales or property crimes. The Probation Department is pushing for these criminals to serve a split sentence, with some time in custody and the rest under supervision in the community, Taylor said. 

Sheriff Bill Brown told the supervisors that his department is making “every effort to make AB109 as successful as possible.”

However, the county’s jail was inadequate before AB109 prisoners were introduced, and the department continues to release people early to create more space.

With AB109, “we end up getting people that cannot be released,” he said. “We’re running out of people who are good bets to push out early.”

Whether Santa Maria’s jail facility could be opened up to prisoners was brought up during the discussion. That building is currently used only as a booking station before they are transported to the South Coast jail, but the facility has 20 beds that could be used for long-term prisoners.

But Brown said the department doesn’t have enough custody deputies to open the facility. 

Brown said he’s still actively seeking funding for the jail, another $20 million, and that legislation has been drafted that could refund the county with that money back from the state. Brown said he hopes to come back in June with an update.

What exactly the financial implications mean for the county are unclear, and Supervisor Salud Carbajal asked for more analysis from the county CEO’s office.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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.

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