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Low-level criminals going to jail instead of prison

COAST CITIES — During the first week of the new law that aims to reduce the statewide prison-overcrowding problem, 18 convicted felons were sent to jail instead of prison to serve their sentences.
Assembly Bills 109 and 117 were passed earlier this year to allow the state to shut the revolving door to low-level criminals who’ve served repeated bouts in state prison, as a plan to save money. The bills were recommended by Gov. Jerry Brown
It’s a change in the operation of the state’s criminal justice system, and stems from a court ruling that mandated California to significantly reduce its number of inmates by 2013 by about 20 percent.
The law is labeled “historical” by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and effective Oct. 1, 2011, it changed the criteria for crimes that could land a person in prison.
“The big thing AB 109 did was change the definition of a felony,” said Commander Will Brown of the Detention Services Bureau.
For ages, a felony has been defined as a serious crime typically punishable by death or at least one year in prison, according to federal law.
On Sept. 27, County Supervisors unanimously approved the state-forced plan that pushes the responsibility of certain nonviolent, nonsexual and non-serious offenders into the county’s hands.
These inmates will be sentenced to serve their time locally instead of in state prison, Brown said.
Before the bill was passed, county jails housed low-level offenders, which usually included people who were sentenced for misdemeanors, or to one year or less of time served, or those who were awaiting trial.
Now, convicted felons will be housed in jails. Brown said it would be a seamless transition.
“We’ll evenly distribute any pressure over seven jails,” he said.
To save on jail space, some low-risk offenders may have their bails reduced while awaiting trial or receive a home monitoring device instead, according to officials.
During the first week of the new changes, Melissa Aquino, spokeswoman of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, said one person received a split sentence for a felony charge of possession of a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor charge of storing fireworks, and is allowed to work during the day.
“Instead of him being sent to prison, the judge sentenced him to county jail at night,” she said.
Another impact of the bill, called public safety realignment, is that upon release from jail, felons will be supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole officers.
The county plans to hire 75 additional probation officers.
Aquino said that there has been a misconception about the realignment about prisoners being released from prison, and said in a written statement “under realignment, no prisoners that are currently housed in state prison will be physically transferred to county jail or released early. Those currently serving time in state prison will remain there until they finish their sentences.”
According to the state, any felons who are convicted of serious or violent offenses — currently or prior —
including sex offenses, will go to state prison.