Monday, June 30, 2014

RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Released inmates need more halfway houses, grand jury finds

Almost 700 offenders under county supervision are homeless, according to a report.

June 29, 2014
The Press Enterprise
By Jeff Horseman

Almost 700 criminal offenders overseen by Riverside County are homeless and there’s not enough transitional housing for newly released jail inmates who need special help as they re-enter society, a civil grand jury has found.
Those observations were part of a recently issued jury report that examined the effects of public safety realignment on county law enforcement. Enacted by California’s Legislature in 2011 to ease crowding in state prisons, realignment shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders from the state to counties.
The move means offenders convicted of some lesser offenses serve time in county jails instead of state prisons. And many parolees who used to be supervised by state parole agents are now the responsibility of county probation departments.
Riverside County’s five jails filled up after realignment started, forcing the early release of thousands of inmates each year. The county receives money from the state to cover the realignment costs, but officials have said it’s not enough.
The jury, a court-appointed panel of citizens tasked with probing the inner workings of local government, found a dearth of transitional housing and services for inmates on supervised release who have mental, physical and other challenges and need help leading a non-criminal life.
While the state parole department has a network of halfway houses for parolees with nowhere to go, there’s nothing like that for county-supervised offenders, the jury found, adding that 682 county-supervised offenders were homeless as of Dec. 31.
Emergency housing is offered at five locations in the city of Riverside and southwest county, but nothing is available in desert communities, the jury found.
“Emergency housing is available for up to 30 days, but due to a lack of long term transitional housing, the emergency stays have been extended multiple times for several offenders,” the report read. “As of the date of this report, Probation had 15 supervised individuals in emergency housing.”
The county Board of Supervisors last year enacted new zoning for halfway houses. They are allowed by permit in certain commercial and industrial zones but can’t be near places where children gather.
In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department said it received the report and “will formally respond to each of the points raised, and will certainly take steps in addressing those appropriate and actionable items or issues contained therein.”
Public agencies have 90 days to officially respond to grand jury reports.
The jury said probation officials should oversee the creation of more halfway houses. And jurors had other suggestions for improving the county’s response to realignment.
For instance, the jury recommended the sheriff’s and probation departments do a better job relaying information to local police departments and other counties about newly released jail inmates covered by realignment.
“Testimony indicated released offenders frequently travel from city to city and from county to county once they are released from jail,” the report read. “Further testimony indicated that ‘data sharing is inadequate between Probation and the municipal police departments as well as between contiguous counties.’”
“Inconsistent data sharing prevents cities and other entities impacted by (realignment) to ascertain what programs and processes are successful and which ones are not successful,” the jury reported.
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