Inmates at county jail are raising NC concerns
A state program begun last October meant to curb overcrowding and a revolving door pattern of low-level inmates within the state prison system is raising questions among community leaders who wonder what the risks will be for small towns like Nevada City.
Called the Public Safety Realignment, the program implemented in October 2011 is an agreement among the Legislature, governor, state prisons and county sheriffs.
County sheriffs around the state agreed to house low-level state prisoners at county jails, those considered non-violent prisoners and not convicted of sexual or other serious offenses.
For city officials, details of the program remain fuzzy and impacts are just beginning to surface.
“It’s something we need to look into more,” said city manager David Brennan.
Located just a short walking distance from the county jail, Nevada City is already feeling effects of the program, said city police Chief Jim Wickham.
There have been three law enforcement cases that have stemmed from people released from the realignment program so far, Wickham said. The cases come at a time when the Nevada City Police Department is operating with two fewer officers this year.
On June 27, a Nevada City man who was an early release inmate from state prison as a result of realignment, was arrested in a joint agency operation on charges he allegedly kidnapped and physically assaulted a woman.
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly bills 109 and 117, legislation meant to reduce the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons to 137.5 percent of design capacity by 2013 as ordered by the three-judge court and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On average, 20 to 30 state prisoners are housed at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility at 925 Maidu Avenue in Nevada City. Sheriff Royal says there is no reason to worry and the community, including Nevada City, is safe.
“I don’t think they should be concerned anymore today than they would have been a year ago… Nevada County is still a pretty safe place,” said Royal
Most of the state prisoners now at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility were originally sentenced in Nevada County. Some are there for parole violations. Rather than be sent to a state penitentiary, non-violent criminals are now being sent to county jails to do their time.
“These are our prisoners. Originally, the charges were here in our community,” Sheriff Royal said.
Other prisoners may be transferred from other counties when family members move to the area.
Ironically, while prisons are becoming less crowded it appears jails are filling up. The numbers of prisoners sent to county jails across the state are two to three times higher than originally projected due to things like court sentencing, the economy and flash incarcerations, said Sheriff Keith Royal.
So far, the jail is large enough to accommodate the extra inmates unless there is an uptrend in crime, said Royal.
“I think the problem we face and the frustration is the revolving door” for such crimes as drug offences and property crimes, Royal said.
“That has not changed. That’s been the issue for a long time,” he said.
Wayne Brown has the capacity to manage 280 inmates and is considered full at about 80 percent, reserving beds be set aside for hospitalization issues and keeping women and men inmates separate. On average, the jail houses about 220-225 people.
“We’re not there. I don’t anticipate we’ll have a major overcrowding,” he said, adding that bond money for new jail construction is hard to come by.
Care for long-term inmates can add up when factoring in basic dental care and the hefty medical cost of care such as cancer treatment.
The number of inmates with mental illness coming to the jail is on the rise and becoming increasingly problematic as state hospitals close because of budget constraints.
“It’s a dynamic that’s been becoming more serious,” Royal said.
The Nevada City council will hold a public study session for an ordinance it is considering that would help manage transient camping within city limits, a problem that is worsening in places like Pioneer Park.
“We’re trying to weed out potential criminals,” said Brennan.
Contact reporter Laura Brown at email@example.com or 401-4877.