While the second surge of COVID-19 is prompting more restrictions for businesses and schools across the state, county jails are also bracing for the repercussions which may add to the issue of overcrowding. 23ABC's Bayan Wang looks into the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation suspension of all inmate transfers from county jails to state prisons.
This is the third time the CDCR has suspended transfers from county jails to state prisons. This went into effect on Thursday last week and now local officials are getting ready to see another increase in their local jail population, while they're already dealing with an overflow.
At the Lerdo Jail an overflow of 357 inmates, who would be in state prison during normal times, are being held at Lerdo on top of the jail's normal population.
"One department is making a decision and it is having trickle-down effects all the way down the line," said Kern County Deputy District AttorneyJoe Kinzel. "On the one hand, the Department of Corrections is releasing more inmates during the past 11 months than we have ever seen. About 20-30,000, but on top of that they have limited the ability of county's to send their inmates to prison."
As of Thursday, the transfer of more than 7,000 inmates in county jails will be delayed even longer as the CDCR suspended all transfers to prison for the third time due to the pandemic.
"For some reason, the state of California believes that county jails are safer from COVID than state prisons are and that makes no logical sense to me," said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
Since March, the CDCR has accepted 310 inmates from Lerdo while expediting the sentences of 298 prison inmates and releasing them back into the public in Kern County between July and November 25th.
And now even more inmates from Lerdo will be joining them.
In a statement to 23BC News, Dustin Alkire, the president of the Kern County Detention Officers Association said in part: "by housing state sentenced inmates, we are pushing county sentenced inmates out and back into the public. This causes a concern for public safety. Since the beginning of 2020, we have lost almost 30 detentions deputies for various reasons. Having a low number of detentions deputies means we cannot open our empty jails. We cannot keep criminals off the streets. This should be a concern for our community and our board of supervisors."
In a statement to 23ABC News the CDCR said in part: "Since March, when CDCR suspended intake from county jails due to COVID, we have reopened for intake twice, in May and again in August. Since August, there have been almost 3,000 county jail inmates transferred to CDCR, and we'll continue to work closely with our local law enforcement partners to conduct more transfers in a way that aligns public health and public safety when it is safe to do so."
"There was a while where everyone is trying to work as best we can understanding that the pandemic changes things, but it's gotten to a point where we really need the CDCR to do more," said Kinzel.
it is unclear how long the CDCR will hold that suspension in place. The type of inmate that is being released is low level.
FULL KERN COUNTY DETENTION OFFICERS ASSOCIATION STATEMENT:
By housing state sentenced inmates, we are pushing county sentenced inmates out and back into the public. This causes a concern for public safety. Also, the financial burden of housing these inmates is pushed back to the county.
Staffing levels have a direct effect on this issue. If we had more Detentions Deputies we could open our closed facilities and keep these people in jail. The Sheriff's office is currently running and looking to run more Detentions Deputy academies, but finding good, qualified folks to do the job is tough. Since the beginning of 2020, we have lost almost 30 Detentions Deputies for various reasons, ranging from resignations, retirements, terminations, and leaving for higher-paying Law Enforcement jobs elsewhere in the state. Kern County is one of the lowest-paid counties for Detentions Deputies, something the board of supervisors needs to fix.
Having a low number of Detentions Deputies means we cannot open our empty jails. We cannot keep criminals off the streets. This should be a concern for our community and our board of supervisors.
Having long term state sentenced inmates housed at our county jail is taxing for the entire system. Our Detentions Deputies are already working very hard in a tough environment, but are now working even harder to deal with the needs of long term inmates that should already be at a state prison.
FULL CDCR STATEMENT:
Since March, when CDCR suspended intake from county jails due to COVID, we have reopened for intake twice, in May and again in August. This is the third time we’ve suspended intake as a result of surges in positive COVID-19 cases. Since August, there have been almost 3,000 county jail inmates transferred to CDCR, and we’ll continue to work closely with our local law enforcement partners to conduct more transfers in a way that aligns public health and public safety when it is safe to do so.
Kern County intake since March has been 310 inmates.
As of Nov. 24, the total in-custody population was 97,853, and the total prison population 92,716, a reduction of 21,602 since March 11. There are approximately 7,082 inmates awaiting transfer to state prison from county jails statewide.
Between July 1 and Nov. 25, 298 of the 7,596 expedited releases returned to Kern County.