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As Many As 800 State Prisoners May Be Heading To San Diego County

July 17, 2013 1:10 p.m.

GUESTS:

Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County District Attorney

William Gore, San Diego County Sheriff

Mack Jenkins, Chief Probation Officer, San Diego County Probation

Related Story: As Many As 800 State Prisoners May Be Heading To San Diego County

Transcript:

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.

ST. JOHN: Today on Midday Edition, we have in studio, Sheriff Bill Gore.

GORE: My pleasure.

ST. JOHN: District attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

DUMANIS: Good morning. Thank you for having us.

ST. JOHN: And probation chief Matt Jenkins on the phone.

JENKINS: For me it's afternoon. Good afternoon.

ST. JOHN: You're joining us from the other side of the country. Thank you so much. We have a royal flush of the California's law enforcement people on the show today, so this must be important. But I have to do my due diligence here and ask district attorney Dumanis, we've got this very big issue going on with the mayor and the sexual harassment allegations. Do you have a position on this issue?

DUMANIS: Well, as the District Attorney, are it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment. That's where I'll leave it.

ST. JOHN: And might you have a role to play if legal proceedings are to go ahead in the future?

DUMANIS: I'm not going to comment at this time.

ST. JOHN: Well, we appreciate you at least being willing to come into the studio when these controversial topics are on the table. Let's look at the subject at hand today. The San Diego County supervisors have protested a federal court decision that would send up to 800 more prisoners from overcrowded state prisons to San Diego County by the end of this year. We hear a lot about prison realignment. That's the state's program to ease prisoner overcrowding, and we know that San Diego has been taking all kinds of steps to absorb the offenders and ex-offenders. But could this new influx of prisoners be the straw that breaks the camel's back? And what is the difference about the prisoners that would be released under this new initiative? Basically what the Courts are ordering.

DUMANIS: Well actually when the federal judges ordered releases early on, a couple years ago, the governor began the process with the legislature. And they passed with AB-109 prisoner realignment. And they began, as people came out of prison, releasing them if they were nonviolent, non-sex offenders, and non-serious offenders. In their last commitment. As they did that, we went through those cases as well. So we worked on it with the department of corrections. And there were some issues because when you have a person with a long history, you have to look at that history before making those determinations. So we have basically combed from the people that are in prison already those that are lower level prisoners, and they're already in our community. Some of them on the parole which is now probation taking that on. My concern is that the next 10,000 will be -- will have to really get into those that are more serious in terms of their background.

ST. JOHN: So they may no longer be nonviolent and none sex offenders.

DUMANIS: And none serious.

ST. JOHN: Is this like an early release program?

DUMANIS: We don't know. It will be up to the state to implement that, and one would hope that the sheriff and myself and the sheriff probation officer will be involved in putting that system together. But they have a lot of options, one of which is to do an early release. And I would imagine they picked those that are getting closer to their release time. In the meantime, we have people that are in our local jail. So we're dealing with it from both ends.

ST. JOHN: Sheriff Gore --

GORE: Yes, I think to put this into some perspective, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered forty thousand inmates released -- downsized their inmate population by 40,000. And the state has already downsized by 30,000. What this 3-judge panel is ordering, this last 10,000, that amount by December 31.

ST. JOHN: They're not going to relax the deadline.

GORE: Right, so instead of a gradual transition of inmates from state prison to county probation supervision, primarily, or being sentenced instead of going to state prison, sentenced to our jail, which has been happening for the last 18 months, now there's going to be a dump, if you will, of 10,000 inmates out of state prisons into counties all around the United States. That translates to maybe 800 here in San Diego County. I think that would put a tremendous burden on county probation. They're not going to be coming to my jails. They're going to be released early prison to their sentences being served in state prison. So it's -- my objection to the 3-judge panel is that this arbitrary deadline of December31st doesn't recognize the good job the state has already done in downsize big 30,000. Why not see where we are December31st, give them another six months or year to have a gradual transition so we don't put public safety at risk which is our primary concern?

ST. JOHN: And that's what the supervisors are asking.

DUMANIS: And what we did yesterday was urge the governor to continue his fight. We're supporting the governor's effort to appeal that decision because we're all worried about that.

ST. JOHN: Well, let's bring in Chief Jenkins for a minute. You sort of led the county's realignment strategy. And probation has taken in some ways the biggest responsibility of absorbing these ex-offenders. How many have you already absorbed, and how many more might you expect?

JENKINS: Well, I can tell you, since realignment went into effect on October of 2011, there have been more than 3,700 offenders released from prison to probation supervision. Some have already terminate there'd supervision, been revoked incarcerated again. But right now, we're sitting on roughly 2,500, 2,500 total realignment. And there's 2,200 of which are on post-release community supervision, and another 300 that are on mandatory supervision because they've served prison terms, and they finished the balance of the sentence in the community.

ST. JOHN: Keep going.

JENKINS: May I just echo a point that the sheriff just made?

ST. JOHN: Sure.

JENKINS: That's just about the concerns about the early release order in trying to meet a deadline. It absolutely adjoined with the sheriff in terms of concerns about a risk to public safety because it absolutely would -- it would risk public safety in trying to release that number of inmates in that short a period of time, and there's an absolute concern that these inmates might not be like the ones we've already absorbed, but might be some of those that include serious and violent offenders, and this would be an early release. They would be adjusting the credits so they're leaving prison sooner than they otherwise would have.

ST. JOHN: Isn't this like a political catch 22? When we've asked the question in the last few months has realignment affected the crime rate in San Diego, are the answer I've been getting is it's too soon to tell. If you don't just say that's what's causing the rise in crime, the Courts may not have any evidence to suggest that it's unwise to dump another 800 on San Diego.

DUMANIS: I think everyone is saying scientifically we can't say that. We can say we're at an all-time low in terms of crime, and within the last year and a half, we've seen an increase in crime. So circumstantially from my attorney view, that means we're having a direct impact. In fact we're seeing the cases come to our office up about 25%. So I think there is. And I think anecdotally from the officers on the street, that's what they're seeing. My deputy DAs are saying this is what they're seeing, people who are coming back to our system and reoffending.

ST. JOHN: 25%, that's high.

GORE: But also have to keep in mind that the State of California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. 72%. So if we look at these 800 people that are going to be dumped in San Diego County by December31st, if 70% of them recidivate, which has been the case in the past, that's got to drive our crime rate up. I think it's extremely dangerous to public safety to force this release on an artificial deadline, December31st, and not recognize the significant accomplishments the state prison system has already made, not only do their medical health and mental healthcare in the facilities, but they've downsized by 30,000. I think we should consider public safety when we do that.

ST. JOHN: Matt Jenkins, you have told us in the past that the recidivism rate before prison realignment began was in the 30% range as compared to the state's 70% range. Has that changed?

JENKINS: Well, I can tell you that's not an apples to apples comparison, first off. The way they've met those figures is different the way San Diego County has measured recidivism. So the probation recidivism rate has not changed. We have had good success in reducing the number of felony probationers who have been revoked and sentenced to prison. And in fact that number actually continues to go down. But this last year, 2011, we had about a 36% recidivism rate for felony probationers that terminated prison. That rate is measured by a new conviction during the term of supervision. CDCR measures it by a return to custody. And those rates have been as high as 70% up to three years after they left prison. With regard to the felony probation rate, it's staying steady at about 36%. What we do know about the post-release population during the first 12 months, 24% of the individuals that came back to our supervision were charged with a new crime. That becomes another measure of supervision. With our post-release population, we're looking specifically at those who have been charged with a new crime.

ST. JOHN: I guess the general public might be wondering about taxpayer money and all. Have we had to build more jail space?

GORE: Yeah, we've tried to avoid that. But no, we are building new bed space. We're adding 400 beds into a center in Otay Mesa. We only had about 900 beds available when realignment started. We anticipate probably 2,000 more beds as a result of realignment. So something had to give. We're working very hard at alternative custody programs. We have about 250 people in alternative custody now. We have additional inmates that are in work furlough beds so they can go to work during the day and stay in these facilities at night, trying to make space available in our facilities for people that need to be behind bars because they are a threat to public safety. All of our goal is to work on programming in our facilities, the rehabilitation programs, the literacy programs, the substance abuse, the anger management so these people when they come out of our facilities have a chance of succeeding, and we lower that recidivism rate. It's important to transition them into community-based organizations to continue that assistance they need to be successful once we come back into our communities. 95% of the people who go to jail or prison are coming back to our communities.

ST. JOHN: Well, in some ways this whole process had some hope of shifting the emphasis away from incarceration to rehabilitation, which I think we all would love to see. But we decided we can't afford to keep them locked up. Can we afford to rehabilitate them?

DUMANIS: I think San Diego is uniquely positioned because we have been working on this. Sheriff Gore, Chief Jenkins, myself, on re-entry at least since 2005. And the reason why it saves money is because for every bed we save someone going into jail or prison and use that money for treatment, it takes about $5,000 for treatment. Maybe a little bit more. And about $35,000 for a bed locally.

ST. JOHN: That's interesting.

DUMANIS: And in state prison, it's more like $50,000. So we've been working on evidence-based programs, programs that have proven successful. We have reduced the recidivism here in San Diego, which is why having it local is not necessarily a bad thing. But we're still building that airplane while it's up in the air. That's why we're concerned the dump right now in December -- we're going to be stretched to the limits. And it is going to be a public safety risk.

ST. JOHN: Just one last question here about the Courts. I understand it's the weekend courts that are already looking at being overwhelmed. And one supervisor was calling for more weekend courts, but we've heard the courts are going through budget cuts. Is this feasible?

DUMANIS: Well, the Courts have been tragically reduced in their budgets, and all of us are suffering. I think what supervisor Ron Roberts is looking at is possible alternatives like iPad, applications, video arraignments. We all have to look outside the box. Bail reviews by telephone. We're seeing a peak in the weekend because when you get arrested on Friday, be you don't get released until Monday. And sometimes those are petty thefts or with priors, that sort of thing. So as the sheriff said, we have to look at those people that really need to be behind bars and get them there. Those people we can rehabilitate, we do that.

ST. JOHN: You're really given us something to chew on here. Thank you so much for coming in.


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