California inmates serving sentences that exceed one year used to be sent to state prison. However, Gov. Jerry Brown’s solution to prison overcrowding, by shifting low-level felons to county jails, has created a new class of inmates, according to Arvin Temkar of the Monterey County Weekly.
Because of Brown’s prison population reduction plan, called Realignment AB 109, convicted felons can now serve longer sentences in local county jails.
“It’s a question of having access to
self-help programs, personal TVs/radios”
Temkar focuses on the story of James Russell Scott, a convicted felon. Scott is serving a seven-year sentence in Monterey County Jail for a drug violation.
One of the issues raised by Temkar is the lack of space that is available for rehabilitation programs in county jails, which were not built to handle long-term stays.
Scott, a confessed drug addict who has been in prison before, says that he would have preferred to go to prison. He opined that the medical facilities in prison are better than those in county jails and that prison has better food.
Some inmates agree that prison is a better place to do time than county jail.
“It’s a question of having access to self-help programs, personal TVs/radios, access to an outside yard of recreation, family visiting, contact visiting and more,” said Anthony Ammons, a San Quentin inmate serving a life sentence.
County Sheriff Scott Miller expressed support for more funding for jail programs. At the same time, he added, his facility is not equipped for longer sentences. “It’s one thing to have someone here for four years and it’s quite another to have someone here for 24 years,” Miller said.
Critics of the state’s incarceration system are not particularly satisfied with the state’s handling of realignment. According to Temkar, they argue that the state is just shuffling inmates from one lock-up facility to another. They don’t see the state as really addressing the issue of reducing the population, reducing jail sentences and the financing of rehabilitation programs.
Tash Nguyen, an activist with Sin Barras, a prison reform group, said that the proliferation of jails only creates a larger landscape where jails exist. Longer stints in jails or the building of more jails will not relieve the state of its overcrowding, nor does it ensure public safety. Activists contend that more money should be spent on treatment facilities and prevention and that the community must become more involved in this endeavor.