Are you monitoring the news coming from Sacramento regarding cuts to the statewide prison population? Well, so are officials at the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
The budget upon which the governor and the Legislature recently agreed included a $1.2-billion cut in prison funding, and in order to save that much money, thousands of inmates would likely have to be released early. The number that's been bouncing around out there is about 27,000 inmates. Then, on Tuesday, according to news reports, a panel of three federal judges ordered the state to release 43,000 inmates during the next two years because severe overcrowding has created conditions that violate the U.S. Constitution.
Sheriff's Commander John Ingrassia told CityBeat that all county officials can do to assess the future impact of such a massive release is consult the statistics: Between 7 and 8 percent of the state's 158,000 prison inmates come from San Diego County, and the recidivism rate between 2005 and 2008 was 60 percent. If you assume that, because of capacity issues, the state can't re-admit any of those 43,000 inmates if they re-offend, or if they commit serious felonies like murder or rape and someone else has to be released to make room for them, you'd be looking at about 1,900 more people than usual entering San Diego County jails during the next few years.
Of course, it's not as easy as all that, because there are other punishment options, such as home detention. Sheriff's officials are careful not to issue specific numbers.
In any case, statistics say that there will be an impact on local jails. Problem is, the jails are over capacity themselves. As far as the state's concerned, San Diego County jails are already at 113-percent capacity.
“That's not to say anybody's sleeping on the floor, because we have more beds in the facility,” Ingrassia said. “It's just over what the state recommends housing in those facilities.” Happily, the number of jail inmates has been dropping.
“We're hovering right around 5,000 inmates,” Ingrassia said, “when it's not uncommon for this time of year to be between 5,200 and 5,300 inmates.
He noted that overcrowding at the women's jail at Las Colinas skews the numbers. Female facilities are at 160-percent capacity. “We're actually in pretty good shape at the male facilities,” he said. Everything's relative; male housing is at 106-percent capacity.
Asked what could be done about all this, Ingrassia noted that the land containing a private facility run by Corrections Corporation of America in Otay Mesa will revert to county ownership in 2015, and there are purchasing options available between now and then. Taking over that facility would add about 1,000 beds, he said.
Of course, he added, someone has to pay to staff and operate the thing.