One of San Diego County’s hottest topics of conversation – the release of inmates from state prisons to county jurisdiction – was discussed Wednesday night, Sept. 25 at Fallbrook Library.
“The goal of tonight’s meeting is to find out how this is being handled in San Diego County, especially Fallbrook,” said Pat Braendel, founder and president of the Fallbrook Citizens’ Crime Prevention Committee (FCCPC), which hosted the session. “We have concerns over public safety.”
To educate residents, the FCCPC asked Mack Jenkins, chief probation officer of the San Diego County Probation Dept., to provide an overview of the strategic plan and conduct a question and answer session with attendees. Jenkins is the chair of the Community Correction Partnership (CCP), which oversees the realignment of prisoners that are now being managed by San Diego County.
The first point Jenkins made was to dispel incorrect information that some media sources had reported, leading the public to believe felons were being discharged “early” into society.
“This is not about the early release of any prisoners; these prisoners are all doing their stipulated time in custody; it is only a realignment of who is responsible for managing and supervising them while they complete their terms,” said Jenkins, citing the passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 109. “What changes is that when a person gets out of a state prison, they are under the supervision of a parole officer from the state. Those that complete their term under county jurisdiction will be supervised by a probation officer.
Jenkins explained the shift of prisoners was ordered due to a lawsuit (Brown vs. Plata, et al) brought about by two inmates regarding the overcrowding of the state’s prisons. When the court found in favor of the inmates, a federal court order was issued to the State of California to reduce its prison population to the appropriate maximum occupancy at each site.
“Essentially, the inmates proved to the court that prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution were being violated,” said Jenkins. That amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment, including torture.
“The California prison population (total of 33 prisons) was at about 170,000 at that time, and they concluded the overcrowding constituted ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’” said Jenkins. The state prison system, which has a fluctuating population (most recently 118,000-120,000) must reduce its number of inmates being housed down to approximately 110,000.
Making an agreeable, strategic plan with court officials to reduce the number of state inmates in a timely fashion has been an ongoing challenge.
“Today (Sept. 25), authorities said the new deadline will be January 27, 2014 to have these prisoners relocated,” said Jenkins.
To meet that goal, the state has put a plan into place to shift a certain number of felons from state prisons to their appropriate county of jurisdiction to serve the rest of their term. Depending on each county’s situation, some have contracted with other counties to house inmates, and some counties have contracted out-of-state prison housing for the ones they are responsible for.
Jenkins said San Diego County’s share was about seven percent (8,000) of those being relocated. Currently, 2,500 have already been shifted.
“In large part, the state’s projections have been on target,” he said.
County Sheriff Bill Gore and his team have developed various ways to handle the reassignment of prisoners, some of which include the building of more inmate housing, having lower level offenders wear GPS monitoring systems, supervised work furlough programs, etc.
“Today, the County of San Diego is at 104 percent of its existing prisoner capacity,” said Jenkins. “We will have a new 400-bed facility soon.”
The new facility is being funded by money allocated to the county by the state. Senate Bill (SB) 105, recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown, provides additional funds to help the county offset costs related to this. Money will also be provided from two tax sources.
“The state vehicle licensing fees and a one-half percent state sales tax will go to the counties to help with costs related to the prisoner realignment,” said Jenkins.
The County is also being proactive, Jenkins said, in providing more programs to rehabilitate prisoners and make them better citizens in the future.
“Currently, 80 percent of inmates have substance abuse problems; we are making sure we have drug treatment, rehab, and work readiness programs to try and address these problems,” he said. Incentive-based systems are being utilized as well.
“If a probationer meets certain criteria, they may be able to get off probation a little earlier than the usual three-year term,” said Jenkins. “They would have to demonstrate a history of clean drug tests, no violations, have achieved their case plan goals, and be employed or enrolled in school.”
While the new plan is an assertive one, Jenkins said the offenders that have served their time and have been most recently released into the Fallbrook jurisdiction are, nonetheless, a concern.
“In recent time, there have been 24 offenders released to Fallbrook addresses; these are people who have served their time in prison,” explained Jenkins. “[Because we are now responsible to supervise them], we have evaluated each and every one of them and determined 79 percent are at high risk of recidivism (relapsing into criminal behavior).” As a result, those individuals are under a higher level of supervision during their probationary status. Those at medium risk amount to 13 percent; and low risk, eight percent.
Hence the reason the Sheriff’s Dept. has been utilizing its Targeting Known Offenders (TKO) program significantly in Fallbrook.
In the county overall, the numbers are slightly different. Those deemed to be at high risk for recidivism are 73 percent, medium 13 percent, and low 14 percent.
More than one person asked during the question and answer session if it is possible for the public to know where released prisoners will be specifically residing.
“There is no provision for the public to have the right to know that, except for sex offenders that have the registration requirement,” said Jenkins, who also clarified whose primary responsibility it is to monitor these offenders who have served their time and are released.
“The first agency responsible for these people is the San Diego County Probation Dept.,” said Jenkins.