Report: County Needs to Better Coordinate with Cities on Early Releases

RIVERSIDE – Riverside County agencies need to improve communication with municipal police departments so that everybody’s on the same page about who’s being released from jail and when, and more temporary housing is needed to get parolees and probationers off the streets, according to a grand jury report.

The 18-page document, slated to be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, details how the county has coped with AB 109, the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act, which relieved the state of supervising parolees — making it a local responsibility — and required counties to incarcerate many convicts who previously would have gone to a state penitentiary to serve their sentences.

The 19-member civil grand jury cited good and bad results since implementation of the realignment program in October 2011.

Positives included the successful formation of countywide Post-Release Accountability Teams, or PACTs, tasked with tracking down and arresting parolees out of compliance with the terms of their release from incarceration.

However, jurors noted that not all cities — namely Lake Elsinore and Perris — had law enforcement personnel taking part in one of the county’s three PACTs, leaving it to other agencies to fill the gap.

According to the report, one of the biggest deficiencies since AB 109 took effect has been in the area of communication, primarily the sheriff’s and probation departments’ lack of consistency in alerting municipal police agencies to the upcoming release of a convict.

Jurors found that the lack of an ”updated and centralized database” for keeping track of who’s being released from one of the county’s five detention facilities posed a potential public safety risk.

”When a prisoner is released from a county jail … no immediate notification is made to local law enforcement agencies,” according to the narrative.

Jurors stressed the importance of a unified database so that authorities can get a better handle on ”what programs and processes are successful” in confirming the whereabouts of probationers and parolees, and keeping them out of trouble.

The grand jury identified the two main categories of AB 109 inmates as those on ”post-release community supervision” — or let out of prison to relieve overcrowding in the state’s 33 penal institutions — and those under ”mandatory supervision,” who are on probation or parole and have been jailed for offenses that do not warrant a return to prison.

Under AB 109, offenders convicted of a ”non-serious, non-violent” and non-sexually oriented crime must serve their time in a county jail. Officials have underscored the immense pressure this has placed on the local correctional system.

According to sheriff’s figures, as a result of overcrowding, between Jan. 1, 2012 and this past June 12, a total 21,800 inmates have been released from the county’s jails before completing their sentences or having their cases adjudicated.

The early releases are known as ”fed kicks” because of a 1993 federal court decision mandating that each county inmate have a bed, else the sheriff is required to free some detainees to make room for incoming ones.

Sheriff’s officials vet offenders to ensure only those considered ”low- level” are turned loose. However, since implementation of AB 109, upward spikes in localized crime have been reported throughout the county, with property crimes generally leading the list of offenses.

According to the grand jury, research pointed to instances in which inmates are set free without a formal ”case plan” being developed on where they’re going to reside and how they’re going to support themselves. On some occasions, probation officers were not even notified of an inmate’s release until two days later, the report stated.

Jurors also expressed concern about a lack of uniform radio communication between agencies. The county’s Public Safety Enterprise Communication system, or PSEC, went live in January, boasting digital broadcasting ability across 95 percent of the county. But not all area cities have signed on, hampering the ability of one law enforcement agency knowing whether a neighboring one has arrested a dangerous offender.

The grand jury said 4,500 prisoners have been placed on supervised release after serving time in a local jail since AB 109 took effect. About 15 percent of those have ended up homeless, figures showed. Jurors said the county needs to expand its stock of ”transitional” and ”emergency” housing to keep inmates from sleeping on the streets or draining county resources by staying in motels on the county’s dime.

Other recommendations included:

— requiring the sheriff’s and probation departments to regularly alert local police agencies prior to a prisoner’s release;

— requiring a probation officer to meet with an inmate prior to release to verify where he or she will be staying and go over other terms to ensure compliance;

— encouraging local agencies to subscribe to PSEC or develop other means to obtain ”seamless” communication between the county, cities and neighboring counties; and

— get all potential players to join the PACTs.

The board is expected to direct that staff respond to the grand jury report in 60 days.

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