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Calif. Prisons Begin Process To Reduce Overcrowding

October 3, 2011 1:23 p.m.

The idea of state prison realignment might conjure an image of prisoners loaded onto buses and dropped off in San Diego but that's not what will happen. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary, Matthew Cate and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore will explain how the plan, to have counties assume supervision of state prisoners, will be implemented.

Related Story: California Embarks On Corrections Overhaul


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, October 3rd. Our top story today on Midday Edition, prison realignment is a reality in California. It means that more nonviolent criminals will be serving their sentences in San Diego. It means major changes to who's eligible for and who monitors those on parole. We've heard that San Diego County is for the most part, prepared for this transition. More about the new procedures and programs from my guests. Matthew Cate is secretary of the California department of directions and rehabilitation. Secretary Cate, welcome to the program.

CATE: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: And with me in studio, San Diego County sheriff, bill gore. Welcome.

GORE: Thanks, Maureen. It's good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Prison realignment is often described as state prisoners actually being moved from state prison and being put in county jails. That's not exactly right, is it?

CATE: It's not. We had over 20 media calls this weekend asking us for a video feed of buses leaving the prisons and going to the counties. Unfortunately, I think there's been a lot of misinformation on prison realignment. It's a prospective program, meaning everybody who's in prison today will go ahead and serve their complete statutory sentences under realignment. So no one is actually transferred from the state to the county. But as they go forward, as new convictions are had, then more offenders, the non-serious, nonviolent offenders will be housed in county jails like sheriff's gore's instead of going to prison.

CAVANAUGH: For instance, in the sort of misinformation that's been around this realignment, the first day of realignment was Saturday, I read stories that said that two hundred 50 state prisoners were headed to San Diego. Withstood these parolee, which they were, always be released in San Diego.

CATE: Yeah, well, in fact, only three hundred offenders are generally released on any given day throughout the entire state. And under the normal parole rules from approximate the past, about 85% of those offenders would have been supervised by parole, and 15% wouldn't have been supervised at all. Under realignment, 15% are supervised by parole, and the other 50% are supervised by county probation.

CAVANAUGH: So can you put in a nutshell what is the difference with the prison realignment?

CATE: Sure. A big part of it is who super vises offenders after they have completed their terms. So now counties, in this case in San Diego probation chief Matt Jenkins and his staff will have responsibility for supervising local offenders following their release from prison that they didn't have before. And then secondly, the nonserious, nonviolent offenders will be housed holily. So sheriff gore will have the responsibility of housing offenders that he wouldn't have housed previously. Those are the two biggest changes. Then also there's a big financial piece to this, where $400 million this year is going from the state to the counties, and about nine hundred 50 million next year.

CAVANAUGH: Sheriff gore, whether or not the prisoners are getting on buses and being taken down here, which we now know they are not, eventually, San Diego County is going to be responsible for a lot more nonviolent prisoners that would have normally gone onto state prison. My question to you, is our county ready for this change?

GORE: As secretary Cate pointed out, this is prospective. So we hold a sufficient amount of time to adjust to this. Today is the first day that any inmates will be sentenced to our jails that would have previously gone off to state prison. We anticipate looking and working with department of corrections rehabilitation that when fully implemented, we will have about two thousand more inmates in our county jails than we have today. Of right now, we don't have room for two thousand more inmates. We have room right now for about eight hundred, and we expect that -- those beds to be filled up by the latter part of next summer. There's a lot of unknowns here. We're going to have to look like to increase our capacity, work very hard to develop programs in our jails to better prepare these people to reenter our community. Around the state the recidivism rate has been about 70%. If we can lower that recidivism rate, in other words make them more successful when they enter our communities with maybe substance abuse program, literacy programs, drug dream programs, so they have a chance of succeeding when they enter back into San Diego County, then we'll consider that a success. Our numbers will come can down, tell cost us les. There's a lot of unknowns in this right now. That's our big concern at the county level. We have funding from the state as secretary Cate pointed out. We're not sure it's going to be enough funding, and our concern is that it will be continual funding. It's going to be a challenge. But I think we're up to it. I think we coordinate our efforts very well here in San Diego County, between the District Attorney's Office, county probation, the sheriff's department, and we're going to work as a team to try to make this work as best we can. We have a vested interest in having these people succeed when they get out of our jail, so they're not right back in our jail and we have to pay for them over and over again.

CAVANAUGH: What kinds of prisoners will stay in San Diego? Go ahead, sheriff gore.

GORE: It would be the nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offenders will come to San Diego County. Other more serious offenders will continue to go off and be sent to state prisons. I think what the viewers have to remember, when these people are released they always came back to the county from which they were sentenced. So it's not like all of a sudden these people are going to be in San Diego County. They have been coming here before. Hopefully when they come out of our jails, we can better prepare them to be good citizens in our community than has happened in the past. That's going to be our challenge.

CAVANAUGH: Secretary Cate, there are some victims' rights group who challenge whether or not the criteria the state uses for nonviolent, etc., criminals actually do target nonviolent criminals. They point to the idea that some of the criminals have been convicted on. Possessing weapons and things of that nature. Of are you going to be reviewing this criterion at all now that this realignment is in place?

CATE: Well, we have been reviewing temperature we've been meeting with officials from -- representing statewide local low enforcement for about 9 months now. We have a regular weekly meeting where we talk about realignment, and the pros and cons and to make sure we get it right. And as a result of input from local law enforcement, that point was made. Many people said there are some serious crimes out there that the legislation has never recognized as formally violent. So we added about 60 additional crimes to the list at the request of local law enforcement leaders from sheriff's offices, police departments, and probation offices. And the DAs in Democrat pointed this out. We've made some adjustments, and like any program, I'm sure the governor wants to continue to hear from law enforcement on what parts are working and what fine tuning needs to happen.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds like a lot of the strategy for San Diego County is not necessarily to billed more jail space but to get more programs up and running that will reintroduce nonviolent, nonsexual offenders into society; is that correct?

GORE: Twofold, we're going to have to increase our capacity some. We're scheduled to take back one thousand beds in 2015. That's a long time between now and 2015. So we're now studying how we can fill that void and add more beds until we get to 2015. But the challenge is going to be to lower that recidivism rate so we don't have to deal with these people over and over again. That's our challenge. And that's what we're working very hard to try to accomplish.

CAVANAUGH: There is a program that our district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis has implemented that is -- has reduced the recidivism rate, I think, remarkably, but it's only for people who decide they want to plead guilty and get into this program right at the beginning. There are any plans to expand a program like that, maybe to encompass people who have lost their criminal case and yet still want to take part in a program like that?

GORE: No, absolutely. That's what you're referring to is I think it's local reentry program. And it's been success. We're going to have to expand those programs to a larger population. Right now, the average sentenced inmate in our jail stays for 75 days. Now the average term of incarceration with these new non-non-nons as we call them, will be about 18 months. Two things, we just can't let somebody sit in a jail cell for 18 months. And secondly, it's a wasted opportunity to maybe make them better citizens when they get out, to deal with some of the underlying problems that put them in prison, whether it's anger management, substance abuse problems, literacy, unable to hold a job, those are the issues we're going to work on to try to lower that population and re-- make them more successful when they reenter our communities.

CAVANAUGH: Secretary Cate, the underlying reason for this prison realignment are the criminal cases and the problems that the state prison system has had with overcrowding. And I'm wondering how this particular program, the realignment goal, the structure, is going to take the state prisons to that goal of a manageable population.

CATE: Well, that's a good point. The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the state to reduce its population by about 30 to 33,000 offenders over the course of 2 years. And that has to happen in 6-month periods. So we're supposed to reduce our population by 10,000 by Christmas eve. And that's something that I think a lot of folks have forgotten. Without realignment, we would be facing massive early release as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court order. We get a big reduction in these first few months of realignment mostly because the short term offenders that have been coming through the system at a market rate will no longer come. For example, last year, 47,000 offenders came to prison for 90 days or les. Most of those were parole violators and low level offenders. Those are the kind of offenders that the sheriffs throughout the state will be will jailing and will be providing rehabilitation to, and that the probation chiefs, many of them will be providing the super vision for those offenders. Buff it will markedly reduce our population of short term offenders very quickly.

CAVANAUGH: And another question to you, secretary Cate, a lot of this depends on the extra state funding, as you mentioned, um top, that the counties are going to get it hire more probation officers, to have more assets to be able to monitor the prisoners who are going to state in the county. What kind of guarantees do we have that the state will continue to supply the counties the extra money they need to make this new program work?

CATE: Well, right now, the legislature has taken the extraordinary step of passing a continuous appropriation. Meaning the funds that I've described, up to two billion the third year, those are going to be appropriated unless the legislature takes action to undo that appropriation. The governor has said, and he's told the sheriffs directly, and the public that he will veto any damage that tries to undo that funding that has been put in place. Now, that's fine for as long as Governor Brown is in place and is there to keep his word. But who the country has pointed out, and what the sheriffs have pointed out is the what we really need is a constitutional amendment so that future all rights, future governors will also -- can't undo this funding. Because the sheriff is absolutely right. We have to have a constitutional guarantee of funding so that we get long-term funding guarantees so that counties can start investing in the long-term on rehabilitation and on building facilities in capacity.

CAVANAUGH: Just one final question to you, sheriff gore, you know, we've heard a lot about San Diego's preparation to make this kind of a change. But we've also heard there are a lot of counties around the state who are not as well prepared as we are for one reason or another. Is the fact that, let's say, a very large county like LA County is perhaps not as up to speed as we are on how to manage the new number of parolees and number of convicted criminals who are going to stay in the county, is that a particular public safety issue for other counties surrounding them including us?

GORE: Well, I'm reluctant to speak for other counties. I know we've been working very hard here in San Diego County to address realignment. Of and I've talked with my counterparts around the state, other sheriffs, and I know there's a lot of hard work going on all around the state. And hopefully it will not pose a public safety concern. I just know we have a very long and strong history here of coordinate, corroborating, and collaborating with all the law enforcement community. I think we'll be prepared or maybe better than most other places in the state, but I know everybody's working hard on it. I don't want to try to predict doom and gloom where it might not be. I think every sheriff, every probation officer, every district attorney realizes that we have a vested interest in making these people successful when they get out. And I'm sure hopefully everybody's looking at it from that perspective. And I think we have to remind listeners out there that these people are coming back to our county anyway. So if we can make them better prepared when we release them from our jails than that I would have been when they came out of the state prisoner, we're all winners. And that's what we're trying to accomplish.

CAVANAUGH: Is there any county that you know of who was so not prepared for this that perhaps poses a danger for the counties surrounding it.

CATE: I don't think so. These are -- not everybody has the all-star team that San Diego has. But there are a -- the vast majority of folks in the other counties are very well prepared. There are some for whom it's more difficult politically to get action, and we'll be paying especially close attention to those. But on the whole, the vast majority of counties are ready to go. And they'll do a very good job. The governor is convinced local government can do the best job for its citizens. And that's the underlying premise behind realignment.

CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with Matthew Cate, secretary of the California department of corrections and rehabilitation, and San Diego sheriff, bill gore. I want to thank you both thank you very much.

CATE: Thank you Maureen.

GORE: Thank you Maureen.