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County Responds to Report Recommending Public Safety Improvements
Thursday, September 4th, 2014
Issue 36, Volume 18.
Sheriff's and probation officials submitted a response to findings -- issued in June by the county's 19-member civil grand jury -- that focused on Assembly Bill 109, the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act, and the pressures the legislation added by requiring local authorities to supervise parolees and incarcerate many convicts who previously would have gone to a penitentiary to serve their sentences.
The grand jury expressed concern that the cities of Lake Elsinore and Perris, both of which contract with the sheriff's department for law enforcement services, had not committed at least one sworn peace officer to work on one of the county's three Post-Release Accountability Teams, or PACTs.
The PACTs are tasked with tracking down and arresting parolees out of compliance with the terms of their release from incarceration.
According to the sheriff's response to the jury report, Lake Elsinore and Perris are welcome to assign a deputy to one of the PACTs, but it's a decision the cities will have to make on their own, keeping budget constraints in mind.
The grand jury criticized the county for not maintaining an "updated and centralized database" for keeping track of who's being released from one of the county's five detention facilities, suggesting the information deficit posed a safety risk.
According to probation officials, the agency distributes a "warrant list" of wanted offenders and issues a monthly list of individuals who have been turned out of prison on "post-release community supervision." There is even more recent data available via the county's web-based Law Enforcement Portal, officials said.
The department acknowledged the need for a regular listing of individuals on "mandatory supervision," or those who are on probation or parole and have been jailed for offenses that do not warrant a return to prison. The agency said work is underway to make that a regular practice.
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.
As a result of overcrowding, between Jan. 1, 2012, and this past June, around 22,000 inmates have been released from the county's jails before completing their sentences or having their cases adjudicated, according to sheriff's figures.
The grand jury cited 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 said probation officers should be stationed at jails and meet with inmates prior to their release to confirm where they're going and how they can be reached when they get there.
According to probation officials, the department in June asked for county funding to support a "Transition and Reentry Unit," but it's unclear whether the money will be available in the current fiscal year.
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 jury said the sheriff's department should take extra pains to get more localities connected to PSEC.
According to a sheriff's statement, the department "disagrees that PSEC improvements have proven to be a material variable in managing the AB 109 challenges."
Officials said the sheriff supports any municipal police department's desire to sign on to the network, but the communities must decide whether the costs are worth it.
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. Jurors said the county needs to expand its inventory of "transitional" and "emergency" housing to keep inmates from sleeping on the streets.
Probation officials acknowledged a limited stock of transitional quarters, including halfway houses, but said every effort is made to get released inmates temporary housing, using the resources of several county agencies.
According to officials, 47 additional emergency beds were funded in July, most of them in the Coachella Valley.
However, they noted that some inmates refuse transitional quarters even when they're offered because they don't want to live by "the house rules," while other inmates have been booted out of housing programs due to drug and alcohol abuse or other deal-breaking activities.
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