Since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to overhaul its overcrowded prisons in 2011 and realignment reforms were implemented, inmate-on-inmate homicides have risen 46 percent in county jails statewide.
Killings have tripled and even quadrupled in several counties, according to a report by Jason Pohl and Ryan Gabrielson of the Sacramento Bee. Pohl and Gabrielson speculate that realignment has changed conditions in county jails to mirror conditions in once- overcrowded prisons.
Autopsy reports show victims have been stabbed, bludgeoned or strangled with jail staff finding bodies hours after the attacks.
The state’s largest county jail population, Los Angeles County, has been the exception to the rise of jail homicides. A federal court order placed the nation’s largest jail system under an outside monitor in 2014 overhauling operations after officers were caught allowing fights among in- mates and other abuses. Los Angeles County has not had a homicide in more than three years. However, for the rest of California jails, inmate homicides soared by 150 percent, from 12 killings seven years prior to realignment to at least 30 in the seven years after realignment.
Seven years prior to realignment, Riverside County had only one jail inmate killed; five prisoners have been killed since. In the same period, San Diego County went from two to five homicides.
The diversion of people from overcrowded state prisons has changed jail populations to a mixture of people accused of crimes and those convicted of felonies. Three-quarters of those killed in jails since 2011 were awaiting trial, according to Pohl and Gabrielson.
“You have the importation of prison politics into the county jail in concert with people being there longer and having to handle their problems there,” said Jonathan Caudill, professor of criminology at the University of Colorado, who has studied realignment in California. “It’s like fire and gasoline.”
Julio Negrete was booked into Riverside County jail on drug charges in 2013. The next day officers went to escort Negrete to a bond meeting but couldn’t find him. They searched the cell from top to bottom, found some bloody socks, then found his strangled body under the lower bunk. Video footage showed he had been attacked 10 hours earlier. Jail officials said in a written statement that the sheriff’s department is “always troubled” by inmate violence and investigates every assault in its jails.
Former San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi who now re- views inmate deaths in county jails said that the system has fundamental blind spots. “Those who are hell-bent on committing murder know how to defeat those blind spots.”
Attorney Michael Bien represents inmates in lawsuits against California prisons and several county jails cited boredom and frustration alone.