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San Bernardino County Ranks 11th in Prison Rates

Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Apr 27, 2008

San Bernardino County locks people up at a higher rate than all but ten counties in the United States, and ranks third-highest in California according to a new study from the Justice Policy Institute.

277 people in the county were jailed for every 100,000 in 2006. That's a 40 percent increase since 1996 according to "Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety" - a study by the Washington, D.C. Institute, a criminal justice think tank.

County officials say the rise in county bookings could be more like 50 percent with the meteoric rise in jailing illegal immigrants. "Since the 1970s we've had an increased desire to punish," said co-author Amanda Petteruti.

The study looks at the number people detained in jails, locally run facilities that traditionally hold people with short sentences or people awaiting trail who were either denied bail or could not post it.
In the past two decades, the number of people sent to county jails nationwide has nearly doubled resulting in huge bills for local municipalities, increasingly forced to commit bigger chunks of their budgets to deal with bulging holding cells.

Petteruti cited a number of factors including jailing illegal immigrants, rising bail costs and more people being detained on minor infractions, more people being held pretrial or sent to county facilities due to overcrowded prisons.

County supervisors say the findings demonstrate the costly impact of jailing illegal immigrants.
"Our County jailed more than 4,000 illegal aliens last year alone," said Board Supervisors Chairman Paul Biane who alone with Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt are seeking federal reimbursement for costs incurred by the County by incarcerating inmates who are in the U.S. illegally.

Mitzelfelt said illegal immigrants were incarcerated for an average of more than 120 days each, which cost the county approximately $24 million.

"San Bernardino taxpayers shouldn't have to shoulder that burden," he said.

The federal government reimburses counties for jailing illegal immigrants with funding provided through the State Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). However, federal reimbursement received for last year was only $591,155. The County is requesting full reimbursement of costs.

The study found that the number of inmates booked into the County jail rose from 3,958 in 1996 to 5,533 in 2006.

Baine said the board has taken several steps to ease jail population to include handing over illegal immigrants to federal agents and citing and releasing offenders with low bails.

But Bob Paige spokesman for Supervisor Josie Gonzales cautioned that the Institute's findings may not have taken into consideration the county's Adelanto Detention Center which opened January 2006.

"Historically non violent offenders were cited and released because of serious over crowding. With the Adelanto Detention Center on line many of those beds are filled to capacity with illegal immigrants considered flight risks which could account for the spike in overall inmate population," said Paige.

The study also blames poor drug enforcement policies for the dramatic rise in inmate population. It said that more inmates are being held in jail for longer amounts of time before trial.

Nationally, a quarter of the people jailed in 2002 faced drug charges, according to the study, a stark contrast from 1983, when about 9 percent of jail inmates faced drug charges.

Another reason that the report gives for more jail inmates is the rise in "broken windows" policing, which cracks down on smaller infractions and quality of life crimes to try to lower overall crime rates.
In Los Angeles for example which has the most people in jail with just over 19,000, police are issuing tickets to the homeless on skid row for infractions like jaywalking, she said. "When these people fail to pay they go to jail. They get a warm bed, food and healthcare at a huge taxpayer expense."

Petteruti said counties are spending more money on inmate incarceration and less on schools and healthcare. "In California thousands of teachers are threatened with job layoffs, while budgets for county jails are exploding."

Related Articles:

Should Police Probe Suspects' Immigration Status?

Crime is Down But More People in Jail

U.S. Leads World in Jailing Children


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