Sheriffs say state felons are taxing local jails

LA County Jail Inmates

Courtesy Los Angeles County

Because of realignment, county jails around the state are housing lower-level felons with longer sentences, which is a new challenge for sheriffs.

In Southern California, hundreds of felons are serving extended sentences of five years or more in local jails that are equipped for shorter stays. That’s been confirmed for the first time in a survey  the State Sheriffs Association released Tuesday to gauge the effects of California’s realignment law.

A year and a half ago, California began sending thousands of low-level felons to county jails instead of prison. San Bernardino County absorbed 4,200 new felons, a small percentage of whom are in for 5-10 years.

San Bernardino Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman says those longer sentences mean fewer spots for people convicted of lesser crimes — or who are waiting to be sentenced.

“We have now so many more inmates that are staying here," Bachman says. "It certainly makes it more difficult to find adequate space to hold those inmates that we need to hold in custody.”   

Realignment added more than 5,200 felony inmates to L.A. County jails, where Sheriffs’ spokesman Steve Whitmore says the 400 or so long-term inmates among them aren’t a problem — yet.

“Can we manage our jail system today?  Yes,” Whitmore said.  “Will it become a challenge?  Logic would dictate, yes it will.”

Whitmore said jails will continue to accumulate these long-term inmates, and there’s a risk that state lawmakers could vote to divert more felons from state prisons to county facilities.

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