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Tuesday, Dec 25 2012 12:02 AM

Chief Kermode: prison realignment a complicated issue with local impact

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Tehachapi Police Chief Jeff Kermode made a presentation to the City Council at its Dec. 3 meeting on how Assembly Bill 109, prison realignment, is affecting the city.

City Manager Greg Garrett introduced the chief, noting that realignment is effecting Tehachapi and Kern County in a negative way.

"Some of the statics are quite amazing," Garrett said. "The state continues to act in mysterious ways, but it effects our town specifically in higher crime rates. We hear about it we see it, we read about it in the newspaper. Crime is going up everywhere not just Tehachapi, all of Kern County and all of the state. We're going to be very aggressive about it and fight back."

Kermode agreed.

"Realignment is kind of a complicated topic," he said, "but to take it down to it's most basics, a couple of years ago the federal courts decided that the California prison system was over crowded and that there was substandard medical care as the result of a law suit against the prison system. As a result of that litigation the federal courts imposed a population cap on our state prisons so theres a deadline for the prison system to reduce its population. The state in its wisdom came up with this realignment plan."

Basically, he said, AB 109 is an effort to reduce prison population.

"One element of that is a change in sentencing guidelines," the chief said. "Up until a year and a half ago, if somebody was convicted of a felony they went to state prison. The way it is now, if you're convicted of a felony -- unless it's one on the specific list -- you don't go to state prison, you go to the county jail.

"Things like burglary, grand theft, drug offenses -- what the state considers non violent, non sexual, non serious felonies -- get sentenced to county jail. It doesn't matter how many times somebody is convicted of burglary, it's a property crime," he noted.

"They don't go to state prison anymore, they go to county jail," he said of the so-called "non-non-non" offenders. "That's the first element of the problem with realignment, because instead of putting them in prison, they now get sentenced to the overcrowded county jails. Typically somebody sentenced to county jail time is serving about 20 percent of their sentence. If sentenced to a year in county jail, they're going to serve about two and a half months then they're back out on the street."

The county jails were already full, he said, with inmates serving time for misdemeanors and low level flonies, so not only are the felons not going to prison, the non-serious, nonviolent, non-sexual felons are going to county jail, serving only a portion of their sentence.

"The inflow of the new felony suspects doesn't leave any room for the misdemeanor suspects from the quality of life types of crime like vandalism, petty theft, DUI and things like that," he said.

The second part of realignment, the chief noted, is the impact of those criminals that are no longer eligible to be in state prison, because there non-non-nons.

"Instead of being released on parole, they're released on what's called post release community supervision. They are now assigned to county probation instead of state parole, so county probation has been playing catch up. They are hiring more probation officers to handle that work load."

Kermode was complimentary of the city's relationship with the parole division.

"We have a great parole officer up here who works with us," he said. "If we have a violation, a new crime, a misdemeanor or we find that parolee in violation of his parole term, we make a call and he violates them immediately. There's a no bail hold placed on them and they go back into the system until they have their hearing and it's decided how long he's going to stay in."

The city also works with the street interdiction team to do sweeps on the early release criminals, but this effort is hampered because of funding, Kermode noted.

"Kern County is the lowest funded of the counties in the state when it comes to realignment funds," he said. "We receive $5,000 per year per prisoner to deal with the releases, while the densely populated Bay Area counties, for example, are receiving three times that funding.

"We're not giving up, we're trying hard," the chief said. "Tehachapi is the only city in the county that has had two of these AB109 sweeps. Today, the new list came out from the probation department listing all of those on this post release supervision -- there were 60 pages in Kern County, of those 60 pages the good news is that the Tehachapi region only had one page. Of those, 15 people are in the city limits and another 30 of these folks are in the county area around us. We're trying to help probation keep track of them. On top of that, our probation list has another 59 people on probation in the city limits and another 34 on parole."

Despite these efforts, Kermode said, there is an impact on the community.

"The bad news for us is, our property crimes are up," he said. Petty theft and burglaries are up. Most of the burglaries are from unlocked structures, there's no forced entry. Like everywhere else, the good news is our violent crime is not up significantly. We had a three week period here where we had a series of high profile crimes that are related and still being worked, but violent crime is not up significantly, it continues to be among people that know each other."

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