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Catch and Release: Realignment Revisited; Part Two

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HUMBOLDT COUNTY- With more inmates in local county jails, the Humboldt County Correctional facility has had to find a way to deal with more inmates and less space.

 

"I think one of the things that has happened with AB 109 is it forced us to look at alternatives and be more creative," said Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey.

Downey said the county has had to create new system of programs and regulations right after realignment was signed into law three years ago. He said the largest struggle has been maintaining the jails population after the influx of new inmates.

The Humboldt County Jail can house up to 410 inmates, Downey said they have been able to maintain their numbers to about 370 or 380, but said there has been times where the jail has reached capacity and officials were forced to lower their population. "[Otherwise] we'd have to be under the same type of mandates as the state to lower our population," he said.

"The numbers have gone up before in a single day," he said. "Based on some sweeps going on we could do 20 to 30 bookings in a day easy and fill that capacity right up."

In response the jail has developed a system called the 'matrix' a method that lowers the prison population by releasing the lowest level inmates based on their crime and chances to re-offend.

Many members of the community worry that releasing inmates on the street sooner is threat to safety. Downey said that is why the county has developed more programs to rehabilitate criminals and have better supervision of them after their released.

"We are very program oriented," he said. "We hope that through these programs we can, a. keep our jail population down and have some rehabilitation along the way."

The largest focus over the past three years has been through the Humboldt County Probation Department. The agency is in charge of reducing crime. Bill Damiano, the chief probation officer, oversees the department as well as the county's transition after realignment. Damiano said the county has developed new programs to prevent crime.

"The offenders that we are getting back from prison, or are getting sentenced here locally, are the highest risk to re-offend. We have pretty intensive services to deal with those people so that they are less likely to re-offend," he said.

The most successful program, Damiano said, is the Day Reporter System where all the services for people on probation are housed in one location. Programs for mental health services, substance abuse and vocational and educational assistance.

Since programs have been put in place, he said he has seen former criminals make positive changes in their lives. "They're finding out that we're not going away," he said.

But Damiano and Sheriff Downey said that there are still repeat offenders that are falling through the cracks. Both said the county needs to devote more funding to help communities deal with the aftermath of realignment.