May 27, 2008
Los Angeles County braces for an influx of state prisoners
With jails, drug-rehab centers and probation offices already swamped, Los Angeles County officials are bracing to take on thousands of additional low-risk convicts who could come their way as part of a proposed legal settlement to reduce state prison overcrowding. The idea of reducing the state prison population by shifting offenders to county programs and facilities is causing anxiety among those who would be expected to take on the additional responsibilities.
The proposed settlement comes two years after attorneys for prisoners petitioned a federal court to impose a cap on the prison population.
They have argued that crowded prisons contribute to the state's failure to address serious problems with mental healthcare and medical treatment given to inmates.
Under the draft agreement, new offenders and parole violators would be diverted from state prison and remain in their home communities to be watched over by county probation officers, jailers and state parole agents.
Some offenders would go into local drug rehabilitation programs and halfway houses under supervision of county probation officers; some would be fitted with electronic monitoring devices and assigned to home detention; and others could end up serving time in county lockups.
California Court of Appeal Justice Peter Siggins, a settlement consultant and mediator, said the proposal is a more reasonable approach to easing overcrowding than simply releasing prisoners before they have served their sentences. He also said providing offenders with county-level treatment programs could help lower recidivism rates.
The goal, Siggins said, "was to trade that revolving door for a magnifying glass and really put these folks under scrutiny." He said any proposal to divert state convicts to counties would include funding. [Mark Godsey]
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