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UPDATED: Supervisors Tackle Riverside County Jail Overcrowding

At the current rate, 9,276 inmates who are either awaiting trial or who have been sentenced could be back on the streets by the end of this year, according to county officials.

Patch file photo
Patch file photo

The Board of Supervisors determined today that expanding Riverside County's jails is critical to relieve inmate overcrowding, but building a new jail and even privatizing correctional facilities should be seriously considered.

"We need to have someone who will look at all options," Supervisor John Benoit said during a board study session.  "There are a list of things that we should have a consultant look at."

The board heard 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.

A key finding in the committee's 97-page report: the need for an additional 10,000 inmate beds in the next 14 years to keep pace with demand and prevent the ongoing practice of releasing inmates before they've served their time or had their cases resolved.

At the current rate, 9,276 inmates who are either awaiting trial or who have been sentenced could be back on the streets by the end of this year, according to county officials.

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.

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

According to the study, 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 fueling concerns is the rising crime rate. The IMPRISON 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.

"We have a dilemma here in front of us that we have to fix," Supervisor John Tavaglione said, emphasizing the mounting costs of addressing public safety needs.

The county currently spends 20 percent of general fund dollars on corrections. That number is projected to more than double in a decade if the county appropriates the revenue required for jail infrastructure.

"We need to put together a long-term plan so that we're positioned better going into the future," Tavaglione said.

He advocated an in-depth study of utilizing private jail systems and licensing their use in the county.

Supervisor Jeff Stone said he doubted private jails would get "good results" but supported expanding existing jails at an expedited pace. He also hoped that whoever the county hires as a consultant would conclusively identify where a new regional detention facility should be located.

A 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.

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.

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.

Executive Office officials and the sheriff are expected to select a jails consultant with whom to contract before year's end. Whoever is chosen will have to be approved by the board. --City News Service

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