Editorial: Sheriffs should end dream of a building binge

Published: Saturday, Jul. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A

Because of overcrowding, Central Valley county sheriffs claim they can't keep dangerous criminals in their jails.

In a Thursday story in The Bee, they attribute the problem to Gov. Jerry Brown's public safety realignment, where people convicted of non-serious, nonviolent and non-sex crimes now serve their time in county jails instead of more costly state prisons.

The sheriffs say they are having to release serious, repeat criminals because they don't have enough cells. They are clamoring to build more jails.

This is claptrap and Californians should see through it. These sheriffs need to look in the mirror.

Their jails are filled mostly with people who are awaiting trial, and have not been found guilty of a crime and sentenced.

According to the state's Jail Profile Survey for the last quarter of 2012, 80 percent of Stanislaus County jail inmates were unsentenced. In Kern County, 77 percent were unsentenced. The percentages were 69 in Fresno County, 64 in San Joaquin County, 59 in Sacramento County, and 58 in Tulare County.

Many pretrial detainees are in jail because they don't have the money to post bail. They are stuck in jail as they wait for their court dates, even as the sheriffs gripe that they have to do early releases of serious criminals due to lack of space.

In Fresno County, realignment critics point to the case of a detainee with a history of felony convictions who had been arrested on an auto theft charge. Due to limited jail capacity, according to The Bee's story, he was let out of jail in November 2011, one month after realignment began, and killed a man a week later.

With an effective pretrial program to screen detainees to see who should be in jail and who should await trial in the community, such people would not be released.

In September 2012, Fresno County launched a new pretrial program, using the well-respected Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument to determine which individuals who have been arrested should stay in jail before trial and who should be allowed to remain in the community while their cases proceed in the courts. The county should give this a chance to work.

San Joaquin County, despite Sheriff Steve Moore's sound and fury, also is on the right track. County supervisors rejected Moore's proposal to build a new 1,280 bed jail in favor of implementing a pretrial program and investing in programs that should reduce recidivism over the long term.

These supervisors provide a model of what should happen in the realignment era.

It does no good to reduce overcrowded state prisons only to create overcrowded jails with the same 70 percent recidivism rates. The aim should be to break the cycle of repeat offending, not to build more jails and fill them up.

Realignment was a major step toward getting California out of an incarceration-first mindset. But counties have to do their part.

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