Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

City Heights Residents Brace For Prisoner Realignment

City Heights is a neighborhood in the City of San Diego.
City Heights is a neighborhood in the City of San Diego.
City Heights Residents Want To Know How Prison Realignment Will Affect Them
GuestsMack Jenkins, Chief of Probation, San Diego County Guy N. Mock, City Heights Town Council Co-Chair

About 150 City Heights residents turned out at Cherokee Point Elementary School last night to learn how a shift of 4,000 state prisoners and parolees to local law enforcement authorities will impact their community.

Under the Public Safety Realignment Act, or AB 109, the state must transfer those being released for non-violent, non-serious or low- to medium-risk sex crimes to counties for post-release supervision. Previously, former prisoners were released into state parole.

The law also encourages judges to administer alternative sentences, such as home detention, work release or GPS monitoring. The goal is to free up jail space.

Many residents of City Heights said they fear the neighborhood’s historically high crime rate means they’ll see a greater influx of convicted felons.

About 95 percent of parolees return to the communities in which they were arrested, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Rodriguez said. But it’s unclear how large a burden City Heights will bear during the three-year realignment timeline.

“Right now we’re not seeing that,” said Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins.

Since October, 403 parolees have come to San Diego County. Only 7 percent are residing in City Heights, Jenkins said. While the City of San Diego has seen the largest proportion at 31 percent, the rest are spread throughout the county or have not yet reported a residence.

A report by the San Diego Association of Governments and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office suggests City Heights residents won’t see the numbers they’re expecting. Downtown San Diego, Midway and Bay Park typically receive 15 to 36 parolees per 1,000 residents, while City Heights receives two to six per 1,000 residents.

Regardless of where the offenders end up, Jenkins said no community will experience a significant threat to public safety because of realignment.

Crimes Committed by Parolees Transferred to County Probation

  • 42 percent property offenses such as burglary
  • 38 percent alcohol and drug offenses
  • 7 percent crimes committed against a person
  • 6 percent crimes with weapons involved

“Many people think it is a mass release of prison inmates,” he said. “It’s not. It isn’t the state just opening its doors and letting inmates go.”

Those released to county probation will already be eligible for parole and likely would have returned to San Diego anyway; the difference is which entity looks after them when they return.

Jenkins said the probation department has hired about 15 new probation officers - including four for City Heights - to deal with the larger caseload. The department is looking to hire about 60 more officers with the $25.1 million of realignment funds provided by the state.

The money will also fund work by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and health care, job training, mental health services and drug intervention for released inmates.

The San Diego Police Department has not received state funds to assist in realignment and will likely not hire extra personnel, but Chief William Lansdowne told residents the department will work with the probation department to do compliance checks on probationers. The police will also respond to community calls.

“You’ll have the best read on the temperature of what’s working and what’s not working,” Lansdowne told the crowd.

With initial fears calmed, many residents said their remaining concern is being included in the process. Many in the audience represented sober-living facilities, clinics and nonprofits. They said they didn’t know how they fit into the transition.

“I think [the probation department] honestly wants to do a good job, but they haven’t figured out how the community fits into the plan. It feels very top-down,” said Ramla Sahid, a resident working on public safety issues with the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network.

Jenkins said the county has allocated less than half of the realignment dollars, so it can direct funds to community programs as needs are assessed. He also encouraged residents to attend Community Corrections Partnership and Reentry Roundtable meetings where enforcement agencies discuss corrections and rehabilitation issues.

Community organizers seemed eager to get involved.

“We’ve seen it all and we get through it every time,” said Jessie Sergent, who has been a City Heights resident for 40 years. “The community just has to get involved and keep coming to meetings.”