Supervisors tackle Riverside County jail overcrowding


Riverside County supervisors today will weigh the county's options for relieving jail overcrowding -- and stemming the tide of inmates released for lack of space -- by expanding existing correctional facilities as well as possibly building new ones.

The Board of Supervisors will hear its first report from a committee formed in June under a joint proposal by Supervisors Marion Ashley and Jeff Stone titled ``Incarcerate More Prisoners Responsibly In Satisfying Overwhelming Need,'' or IMPRISON.

The report highlights startling statistics regarding county jail space -- the most notable being the prospective release by the end of this year of 9,276 inmates who are either awaiting trial or who have been sentenced.

``Jail overcrowding, coupled with a federal (court) order capping allowable jail population, has forced the sheriff ... into releasing adjudicated inmates, as well as those who are in post-arraignment pretrial status,'' the IMPRISON committee states in a 97-page report to the board.

In 2012, Sheriff Stan Sniff released 6,990 inmates from the county's five jails -- an unprecedented number, he said -- because there wasn't enough room for them. A 20-year-old federal court order mandates that the county have a jail bed for every detainee or selectively release inmates to make room for incoming ones. Early releases are known as federal ``kickouts.''

The county has 3,906 beds available. All neighboring counties have more beds than Riverside, the IMPRISON report states.

According to the report, conditions have been exacerbated by Assembly Bill 109, also known as the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011.

Under the law, so-called ``non-serious, non-violent'' offenders convicted of felonies that do not stem from a sexual offense are to serve their sentences in local detention facilities. Proponents of realignment suggested that jail sentences would be capped at three years, but that has not held true; as of February, around 200 inmates in Riverside County jails were serving in excess of three years behind bars.

AB 109 also made counties responsible for prosecuting and incarcerating probation and parole violators whose offenses do not fall into the ``serious or violent'' category. As of last month, the total number of AB 109 cases was 693, or 18 percent of the jail population, according to Sniff.

Further exacerbating capacity constraints, the number of county jail beds has increased by only 31 percent in the last 12 years while the overall county population has jumped 45 percent, according to the IMPRISON report.

A sheriff's needs assessment submitted in 2011 estimated that the county would need 2,342 additional inmate beds a year just to keep up with demand and avoid putting violators back on the street. According to a study by Assistant Sheriff Steve Thetford, the county will need 10,000 more beds by 2028 and 14,000 beds by 2030 to keep pace.

Further fueling concerns is the rising crime rate. The report noted ``a significant increase in both violent and property crimes of 6.5 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively'' throughout the unincorporated communities in 2012, compared to 2011. The committee estimated the total number of arrestee bookings in 2015 will be 60,014, versus 56,132 in 2012 -- a 7 percent growth rate.

The only jail expansion in the works is the East County Detention Center, which will replace the Indio Jail, adding 1,600 beds, for a net gain of 1,250. But groundbreaking on the project isn't scheduled until next year, with completion projected for 2016, according to county officials.

The committee recommended to the board that the county hire an independent consultant to ``fully explore'' short-, mid- and long-term capacity needs.

Ashley and Stone in June advocated beginning a fourth expansion of the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, and the committee agreed that a 600-bed expansion is viable. Enlarging the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside, the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta and the Blythe Jail were not determined to be near-term possibilities.

However, the committee underscored that a ``regional detention center ... to house long-term sentenced inmates'' is ``essential.''

The proposed Mid-County Detention Center, or Hub Jail, was knocked off the county's list of capital improvement priorities in 2011 in the face of what supervisors then agreed were prohibitive costs.

The $300 million facility was to have been erected on a 200-acre site in Whitewater, just off Interstate 10, on the eastern approach to Palm Springs, and provide 1,200 to 4,800 inmate beds. Coachella Valley tourism and hospitality interests widely opposed the concept, saying it would severely degrade the area's appeal.

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