Assembly Bill 109 puts the squeeze on Riverside County jails and leaves more criminals on the streets

Sheriff Stan Sniff says even doubling county jail capacity would still "not be enough" to keep up with demand

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - It was a law approved by Governor Jerry Brown in 2010 that was aimed at reducing overcrowding in California's prisons.

But not only did Assembly Bill 109 send thousands of state prisoners back to county jails, it has also led to the early release of thousands of convicts.

Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff talked about the the bill's impact on the county.

"We have a huge torrent of people that are being released prematurely, and it is not a matter of letting all the easy ones out.  That was done years ago, as the jails began filling up.  What we are releasing now is the best of the worst," said Sniff.

When 109 went effect, the 5 riverside county jails were also at capacity, and that is still the case today.

As a result, the jail system has become like a revolving door for a growing number of so-called "lower level" offenders.

In fact, since 2012, more than 21,800 inmates have been released from county jails before completing their sentences, or having their cases adjudicated, according to figures from the sheriff's department.

"We've had a constant recycling of people over and over, and a constant flow of early releases actually expanding as a torrent almost," said Sniff.

Generally speaking, those who are kept in jail at the local level are people convicted of crimes classified as those that are "non-serious", "non-violent", or "non- sexual".

But in some cases some people busted for property crimes aren't spending any time behind bars.

If they do, the time is minimal compared to what they would have spent if the jails weren't full.

It is a topic that has the attention of valley Assemblyman Brian Nestande.

"We have to build more prisons, and we have to build more law enforcement," said Nestande.

Sheriff's investigators point to 37-year-old Caleb William Wilcox as the "poster boy" who perfectly illustrates what is wrong with the jail system today.

Wilcox has a criminal history in Riverside County which dates back to the year 2000 including convictions on drug charges, burglary and grand theft, with repeat cases of metal theft, a crime which is sky-rocketing here in the valley.  

But actual jail time for Wilcox on convictions since 2010 has been scant, because of AB 109.

"Metal theft has been rampant in the last few years.  I think it is related to AB 109 letting more people out, and they are committing these petty crimes, but these petty crimes are adding up significantly," said Nestande.

In a move to add more jail space, which would keep more criminals behind bars longer, work crews are demolishing a county administration building at highway 111 and oasis street in Indio to build a new jail facility, which will include 1,626 beds.

The price tag is $274 million dollars, and the completion date is November, 2016.

"Riverside County should probably have double the jail capacity right now, and here is the kicker, it would be overcrowded.  So, its not that we will ever be in a perfect position, but we must get in a better position than we are now," said Sniff.

For inmates who are released early, and for criminals who don't spend time in jail, Sheriff Sniff says the county needs to increase the use of ankle bracelet monitors, and expand programs which focus on work release and teaching life skills. 

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