In response to complaints from French Valley residents frightened by encounters with inmates released from the Southwest Detention Center, Riverside County supervisors voted unanimously this week to implement a program that ensures inmates have a ride when they leave the facility.
"I've had inmates ask me for money, and when they don't get it, they get mad," Jacqueline Stone told the Board of Supervisors.
"They've looked at my car as if they're going to get me. I've had them waive their fists at me. My 13-year-old son has been approached by inmates when he's out with his friends. I don't want him in that kind of environment. I'm scared to let him go outside."
About a half-dozen residents addressed the board in support of Supervisor Jeff Stone's proposed Riverside Inmate Destination Endeavor -- or RIDE -- program.
The board chairman said he brought the proposal forward after hearing numerous complaints from Third District constituents who had run into released inmates along Auld Road, state Route 79 and other passages in the vicinity of the Southwest Detention Center, which is located a couple blocks from French Valley Airport at 30755 Auld Road.
Under the RIDE pilot project, from June 1 to May 31, 2015, sheriff's personnel at the jail will provide taxi vouchers that cover the cost of a one- way trip within the local area to an inmate's home or preferred destination, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. The board allocated $25,000 for the project, which Assistant Sheriff Steve Thetford estimated would provide for 833 vouchers over the next 12 months.
"Our staff has the most unwanted job in law enforcement -- deciding who to let out of jail," Thetford said. "We look at every single inmate in the system and make an adjustment ... on who stays or goes. We're overflowing with inmates and are doing the best we can."
Thetford said the state public safety realignment, enacted in October 2011, had left sheriff's personnel battling with capacity constraints in a system with less than 4,000 inmate beds available. Under realignment, individuals convicted of "non-violent, non-serious" and non-sexually oriented crimes can be incarcerated in local jails to serve out their sentences instead of prison, taking up scarce local correctional space.
In 2012 and 2013, the sheriff's department released 16,276 detainees from custody because of overcrowding.
"I've noticed an incline in crime," said bail bondsman Fausto Atilano, whose business is located near the southwest jail.
"I've seen assaults take place. There's a lot of panhandling that goes on. Up and down Winchester Road, these guys are hitchhiking. Inmates are jumping into people's backyards. Something needs to change."
According to Thetford, in addition to vouchers, jail personnel will offer to let released inmates wait in the detention center lobby until they can get a ride and have free use of the phone to make local calls to arrange for a ride. But he cautioned that the jail cannot dictate to an inmate that they accept a voucher or wait in the lobby once they're released.
The department will audit the pilot project to see how well it functions and return to the board next year with a recommendation on whether it should continue.
– City News Service.