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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

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.

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