Monday, June 25, 2012

(NAPA CO) Grand jury scrutinizes county jail operations


The Napa County grand jury found a mix of positive and negative impacts at the county jail from the state’s realignment initiative to house more inmates locally.

But like the county, which is taking a wait-and-see approach to determine how to manage those impacts, the grand jury agreed that many elements of realignment have yet to be fully analyzed.

The grand jury, which issued its report last week, praised the Napa County jail and juvenile hall for being well-run facilities.

Realignment and its jail alternative programs, including more effective rehabilitation and job training, could reduce the frequency of repeat offenders, the grand jury said.

On the other hand, the grand jury said realignment will increase the number of inmates in the jail who would have otherwise been sentenced to prison. That could exacerbate issues of overcrowding in the jail and overburden the probation department, which could lead to increased crime.

The push for alternatives to jail time comes after many inmates have already entered plea bargains to reduce their sentences, the grand jury said.

“Through realignment, they are now effectively seeing further sentence reduction. This could be perceived by some as a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” the report stated.

The grand jury recommends that:

• Officials provide an annual report documenting the effects of jail alternative programs to manage the inmate population.

• The county provide public forums to seek input about the design and location of the proposed new jail.

• Officials prepare to pay for the costs of realignment, should the state decide to reduce funding.

At last Monday’s Napa County Board of Supervisors budget hearing, Senior Management Analyst Liz Habkirk said the county expects to receive

$2.4 million in the next fiscal year to support realignment costs locally.

The county ended its first year of realignment with an extra $800,000. Officials have decided to wait to determine how to spend that money and create new programs, she said.

Several programs have already been implemented, such as pre-trial release, expanded electronic home detention, and efforts that will keep some people arrested on driving offenses out of jail.

The grand jury noted that Napa County was well prepared to handle realignment because its criminal justice agencies were already collaborating to implement programs for jail alternatives, prior to the California Legislature passing the Realignment Act in 2011.

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