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County facing influx of prisoners, parolees

POSTED July 26, 2011 10:28 p.m.

Stanislaus County could be asked to look after as many as 800 additional felons this year.

The realignment program, adopted as part of this year's state budget process, will redirect some felons who would have gone to state prisons into either county jail or local probation supervision.

“It is what it is,” said County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers. “It's happening. We're going to make the best of it.”

The move is expected to save the state approximately $2 billion annually by reducing California's overall general fund budget and, subsequently, the percentage-driven amount which must be distributed to schools.

Realignment won't directly send felons from state prisons back to county jail, but will release some less-dangerous felons into county probation, see parole violators sent to county jail rather than state prison, and redirect some new felons to county jail instead of state prison.

From Oct. 1 to June 30, 2012, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates that 215 felons will be sent to Stanislaus County Jail who would have otherwise headed to state prison. An additional 76 parole violators will return to county jail who previously would have entered state prison, and 512 parolees will be released from state prison into county probation.

The state will redirect about $6 million to Stanislaus County to pay for costs related to the influx of felons. But those costs are projected to rise to as much as $20 million in four years, a level the state contribution is not expected to match.

“The concern going forward is, will the money be sustainable? Will the state come back in three years and reduce it? What's going to happen?” Powers said.

Regardless of funding, realignment will force a “systematic change” in how Stanislaus County handles law enforcement, Powers said, from police to prosecution, courts and probation. In particular, Powers said sentencing may have to change, and prosecution may focus on different cases.

“Our system will look much different a year from now, and even more different two or three years from now than it looks today,” Powers said.

A new committee, chaired by Powers, will be tasked with developing a plan to address the changing landscape of law enforcement. Their report is expected in mid to late September.

The plan is expected to be “fairly broad” and “flexible,” relying on expanding existing programs. Powers said additional detention beds and probation supervision will likely be coupled with an enhanced day reporting center, alternative work program and drug court.

The Stanislaus County Jail currently has 434 extra beds, some of which the county may reopen to handle the new felons. Powers said the county may also look at moving some “lower-end” inmates to probation to open up space for the “upper-level” criminals who would have gone to state prison.

Despite the forced changes, Powers said Stanislaus County is in a good place to adapt. Some jurisdictions are racing to build programs – and even new prisons – from the ground up.

But that doesn't mean Powers expects the task to be simple.

“It's a balancing act, and it's not going to be an easy one,” Powers said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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