H-CENTRAL COAST

Jun 9, 2011 9:25 PM by Danielle Lerner

Local jails prepare for increase in inmates

Local jails are gearing up for an increase in inmates as the state works to fix prison overcrowding. The already-cramped San Luis Obispo County Jail could need to house close to 200 more inmates over the next year.

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to cut the prison population by 33,000 inmates over the next two years. In response, Governor Jerry Brown wants to send thousands of state prisoners to local jails statewide.

However a bill, known as A.B. 109, could avoid an inmate release. The only problem is it still needs funding.

Preparations are underway at the San Luis Obispo County Jail as it works to repurpose four buildings that could soon house more inmates.

"These are used for training right now for our correctional staff, extracting prisoners from cells, using non-lethal weapons that kind of thing," said Rob Bryn, a spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department.

A.B. 109 would change sentencing and probation guidelines, while slowing the flow of inmates into the state prison system.

"Rather than sentence these low level non-serious, non-sexual, non-violent offenders to prison, they'll sentence them to county jail," said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

It would avoid or postpone an inmate release but it also comes with a price. Repurposing will cost the jail more than $100,000 and that does not include the more than 40 people needed to staff the units.

"The new jail, once it's built, will have much less staff costs and will reduce our long-term staff costs," Bryn said, "but this is the cheapest thing we can do at this point."

Parkinson says he supports A.B. 109 as long as it's fully funded, and he says he is confident the jail can handle the increased numbers. Still, at a time when budgets and space are tight, it will not be easy.

"It's a problem of infrastructure that we have to address, but we're going to address the inmate population first," Bryn said.

The Santa Barbara County Jail is also already overcrowded, moreso than San Luis Obispo County. So while it too is trying to make space, a spokesperson says it would need enough funding to possibly build a new facility and institute new programs to accommodate a big increase in inmates.

The state has until November to reduce the prison population by 10,500 inmates.

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