The transformation of institutions such as DVI to alleviate inmate overcrowding has spread across the state like wildfire since a federal mandate, Assembly Bill 109, was initiated Oct. 1. DVI officials have already reclaimed a day room and gymnasium formerly known as C and Y dorms, which had housed close to 200 inmates.
“Big changes,” DVI spokesman Lt. George Paul said. “Historic legislation — looks great on paper…
“It is a great plan. All these overcrowding beds — day rooms and areas used in the institution to house inmates — will go back to their original intent.”
In the next two years, California’s 33 prisons must lower their numbers by 34,000 inmates by May 2013. At the rural Tracy prison, officials are working to whittle down from a 220 percent capacity with more than 3,500 inmates there each day to 147 percent capacity at 2,400 inmates.
The effort began with converting the 20- and 40-bed C and Y overflow dorms, with Z and H dorms soon to follow
“The great part of AB 109, all this overcrowding will go away,” Paul said. “By the summer of 2012, we should be fully converted, pieces at a time.”
AB 109 was a legislative response to judicial action: A panel of three federal judges ruled that inmate overcrowding in California prisons must be reduced to 137.5 percent of planned capacity by 2013. The ruling sprang from two ongoing class action lawsuits involving inmate medical care and mental health care that were filed in November 2006 to address the U.S. Prison Litigation Reform Act.
To make AB 109 work, the California Legislature had to shift housing responsibility for certain nonviolent and low-level offenders from prisons to county jails.
According to Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011-12 budget, AB 109 is expected to save the state’s general fund $485.8 million.
The shift appears to be good news for prison officials, but not for county jail sites, such as San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp.
County-level officials anticipate an inundation of inmates that will fill their limited bed space.
San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore, who oversees the county jail, said his concerns are twofold: space and cost.
“We’re supposed to get 221 inmates between Oct. 1 and the end of June,” Moore said, “and an additional 82 parole violators for a total of 303 by the end of the fiscal year. The first month of October, we were supposed to get 32 sent (here) and five parole violators. What we got was about a dozen inmates sentenced and over 200 parolees.”
Moore said he has enough beds to handle the people the county system has been given so far, but he’s unsure about the future. He said if they get as many as they did in the first month of AB 109, they’ll be out of bed space fast.
The jail inmate cap is 1,411 beds in San Joaquin County, the sheriff said, so anything over that number will result in a ruling to release some inmates early to keep the population under control. This year, the average daily count has hovered around 1,220, he said.
To help with the inmate crunch, Moore said he has plans to double the size of the jail, with new construction plans still in the works. But it will be at least three or four years before that project breaks ground, because there’s no funding source for it.
It’s cheaper to house an inmate at the county jail than in prison, but it still costs the county money — $151 a day, per inmate. San Joaquin County Jail was given more than $2 million to help with AB 109 changes this year. The county used that money to hire 12 more deputies, a deputy sheriff and extra support staff, in the wake of losing 33 correctional officers to budget cutbacks last year.
Moore said space is a problem, but his biggest fear is that the state-provided funding will evaporate after the first year of the program.
“The county would have to come up with $10.2 million more each year to cover the original costs for realignment (if the state no longer funds it),” Moore said.
From the view of state prisons, AB 109 appears to be an unqualified win: By lowering inmate population, it also enables prisons to reinstate discarded programs. In the case of DVI, prison officials are looking forward to bringing back vocational training that was cut a number of years ago.
“We’re scheduled to have five voc programs back,” Paul said, “plumbing, welding, heating-air conditioning, auto body and office services,” which give inmates skills to make an honest living outside the institution’s walls.
For prison industry employees, however, the bill means the likelihood of the loss of thousands of jobs. Last week, potential layoff notices were sent to 26,000 California prison system employees with 10 years or less on the job, including guards, janitors and counselors.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website, DVI was issued 256 of those layoff notices: 147 guards, 14 counselors, and 23 case record technicians.
Paul said it’s too soon to tell what the layoff impact will be at DVI, but official CDC layoff notices are expected to be distributed early this month, with a second wave anticipated for March.