CALIFORNIA: County jails taking in more repeat felons

Inmates at Chino State Prison exercise in the yard. A new state report finds fewer ex-felons are returning to state prisons, but are headed to county jails instead.


Fewer ex-felons are returning to state prisons, according to a report released Wednesday, July 8 — but that’s because many of them are going to county jails instead when they reoffend.

The trend is affecting the safety of inmates and staff at Inland jails.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said 54 percent of felons released during the 2009-2010 fiscal year were back behind prison walls within three years, the time period for which the recidivism rate is calculated. That’s down from 61 percent reported a year ago and down from a high of 67.5 percent for inmates released from prison a decade ago, when California had one of the nation’s highest recidivism rates.

The decline coincides with the passage in October 2011 of AB 109, popularly known as Realignment, to reduce crowding in state prisons. Counties became responsible for inmates released from state prison whose most recent crimes were classified as non-serious, nonviolent and, for sex offenders, non-high risk. Criminals newly convicted of those same crimes now serve their sentences in county jails instead of prisons.

Prison inmates who violate their paroles were once returned to the prison system, said Riverside County Assistant Sheriff Jerry Gutierrez, but now they are housed in county jails.

The influx of more serious criminals has coincided with increased violence at Inland jails, though officials couldn’t say whether those felons were responsible for the increase.

The number of inmate-on-inmate assaults has almost doubled from the mid-300s annually to about the 600s since Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB109 into law, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said.

Gutierrez said there has been “a slight uptick” in inmate-on-inmate assaults in Riverside County’s jails, and the jails are seeing more assaults on staff.

The county’s jails were operating at an average of 83 percent of capacity before AB109 became law. The increase in inmates has forced jails to release lower-risk inmates to prevent overcrowding.

“The population has slowly become dense with hardened criminals,“ Gutierrez said.

In the three-year period since the 2009-10 fiscal year, 61.4 percent of felons paroled to Riverside County reoffended and 59.8 percent of felons paroled to San Bernardino County reoffended and were returned to prison, the state corrections report said. Those figures include felons who relocated to different counties and comitted crimes there.


Arrests of felons ticked up 2 percentage points and convictions 3 percentage points in their first year of release, the period covered under the new law.

Part of that is likely due to prosecutors charging more parolees with new crimes instead of relying on parole violations to send offenders to jail for relatively brief periods, said Public Policy Institute of California researcher Magnus Lofstrom, who studies the trends.

“I don’t think that there’s any strong evidence that realignment is worsening the reoffending (rate),” he said.

Arrests declined slightly and convictions increased by less than half a percentage point over the full three-year period that the nearly 105,000 parolees released between July 2009 and June 2010 were tracked.

Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said one desired effect from the law was to reduce the number of parole violators who churn through repeated prison terms so quickly that they cannot take advantage of rehabilitation programs.

The department also credited increased substance abuse treatment. Offenders who received treatment in prison and after their release returned to prison 21 percent of the time.

California also releases parolees from supervision more quickly, meaning fewer are subject to incarceration for parole violations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report