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Contra Costa County realignment inmate numbers higher than predicted

on November 9, 2011

One month into the state’s implementation of a major prison realignment, Contra Costa County’s parolee and inmate numbers are much higher than projected.

Although the numbers themselves aren’t large, the percentages are. Parole violators in custody are almost double what was expected and so-called AB 109 commitments are 200 percent of what was estimated.

“For parolees per month, the state said it was going to be 56,” Casten said. “We’re at 115. (For) AB 109 commitments, they said it was going to be four; we’ve had 20.”

“AB 109 commitments,” named after the state law that mandated the realignment, means inmates charged after Oct. 1 who might have previously gone to state prison but now go to county instead. These include men and women convicted of non-violent and non-serious crimes, and non-high-risk sexual offenders.

AB 109 also transfers responsibility of select state parolees to counties, though instead of being on parole, they’ll be on “post-release community supervision,” which Contra Costa County Probation Officer Philip Kader described as similar to parole.

Casten said that even though a straight-line projection based off October’s number would be much higher for the whole year, it’s difficult to tell what will happen based off a single month’s worth of data.

The state gave counties a certain amount of money to help cope with the enhanced burden of realignment. The sheriff’s department plans on using some of that money to open new housing at its three detention facilities (Martinez, West County and Marsh Creek) and look at alternate methods of incarceration.

“We had planned under the funding model to have 119 beds available at West County, and 70 beds available at Marsh Creek, and 100 new people on electronic home detention,” Casten said. “We’re probably going to have to shift some money to allow for housing of more inmates because those are court orders. They’re being sentenced.”

Casten said the county has seen some hybrid sentencing thus far, which is the splitting up of a sentence into jail time and then community supervision, house arrest or parole.

Yet one issue on the horizon is each detention center’s security designation.

Martinez Detention Facility is maximum security. West County, however, is medium security and Marsh Creek low.

“Our biggest problem is the types of beds we have,” Casten said. “We have a lot more minimum and medium security beds than we do max.”

At the beginning of October, 635 of Martinez’s 695 beds were full. West County had 731 of its 1,096 beds full, and Marsh Creek was about 50 percent capacity with 88 of 188.

“Even if we get someone in on AB 109 who’s a non-non-non, in the classification process if there are heavy gang affiliations, we can’t get them to Marsh Creek or West County,” Casten said. “If we have to put them into protective custody, that usually occurs at the Martinez facility.”

Regardless of the numbers, realignment is still relatively young in its implementation.

“We just have to see how the next two months go, how those numbers start forming out,” Casten said.

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