SACRAMENTO (AP) — California counties are housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less, according to the first report detailing the size of that population under Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment strategy to reduce state prison overcrowding.
The oversight of so many long-term inmates is presenting challenges for county sheriffs. In addition to finding space in their often-crowded jails, in many cases the sheriffs must provide specialized programs that are more costly than those for traditional county inmates.
"We are not set up to house inmates for this period of time," said Nick Warner, the California State Sheriffs' Association's legislative director. "They're living in conditions that they're not designed to stay in for this long."
The report, covering all but six of the state's 58 counties, was done by the association and sent to the governor and Legislature. The Associated Press obtained a copy prior to the public release.
The association found 1,153 inmates in county jails were sentenced to at least five years, including 44 serving sentences of 10 years or more.
Most of the inmates were sentenced for vehicle theft, drug trafficking, receiving stolen property, identity theft and burglary, although a Riverside County inmate is serving nearly 13 years for felony child abuse and a Solano County inmate is serving more than 10 years as a serial thief. The Los Angeles County Jail is holding 35 percent of all long-term inmates, including one sentenced to 43 years for drug trafficking.
The number of long-term inmates in local jails will keep growing as the state diverts more lower-level criminals from state prisons to comply with the governor's realignment law and federal court orders to reduce the population in the state's 33 adult prisons. Before lawmakers approved Brown's realignment in 2011, the only prisoner who might spend more than a year in a county jail would be someone awaiting trial in a complicated case such as murder.
While the number of long-term inmates represents less than 2 percent of the 77,000 prisoners who can be housed in California's 58 county jails, sheriffs say they command a disproportionate share of money and attention. For example, most county jails lack the large exercise yards, classrooms and treatment space required for inmates who are incarcerated for years instead of a few months.
Many sheriffs would like to return their long-term inmates to state prisons, Warner said, although he acknowledged that is not likely as long as the state is trying to relieve prison crowding.
Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the state Department Corrections and Rehabilitation, acknowledged that sheriffs need a different type of facility to handle long-term inmates, but he noted that state lawmakers authorized $500 million last year to help counties renovate jails and add space.
"The jails are getting modernized," he said. "They're able to offer more programs to their inmates."
Lawmakers have approved $1.2 billion in bonds for building new jails, many of which are under construction. Counties are getting $865 million in operating money through the state this fiscal year, with their allocation budgeted to exceed $1 billion next year.
Callison said the state also is discussing with counties ways in which they can better accommodate their long-term inmates, including contracting with outside facilities that are better designed to handle that population.
He said judges also can sentence inmates to split sentences that reduce jail time while requiring that released felons are supervised after being released.
"The U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to dramatically reduce its prison population. Rather than release prisoners early, the state is complying through realignment," Elizabeth Ashford, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an emailed statement.
She said the state will keep helping counties as they implement the policy.