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Coming to SCV: inmates

Supreme Court decision is expected to transfer hundreds of state prisoners to Pitchess Center

Posted: May 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Local jailers plan to re-open all closed facilities at Castaic’s Pitchess Detention Center in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week aimed at alleviating overcrowding in state prisons.

The court’s ruling Monday is expected to force the state to reduce its prison population by about 33,000 inmates over the next two years.

The decision comes on the heels of a law signed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown to transfer thousands of nonviolent felons to county jails from state prisons.

In light of these legislative and judicial developments, the Santa Clarita Valley will become instrumental in the state’s proposed prison realignment.

“It will require us to re-open all of our facilities,” said Lt. Mark McCorkle, who heads custody operations at Pitchess. “Just how long it will take us to fill all the beds comes down to some voodoo math.”

Facility closures began in March 2010 when Pitchess’ north facility effectively shut down, leaving approximately 1,600 beds empty.

Shortly after that, south and east facilities shut down, creating an additional 850 empty beds.

The local closures stemmed from “fiscal problems” inside Los Angeles County, McCorkle said.

Pitchess can and will accommodate the anticipated influx of 1,450 inmates — most expected to be transferring out of state prisons — on the condition that funding for the move is made available to the county, he added.

“The only way it all becomes feasible is if there’s a constitutional agreement that guarantees funding,” McCorkle said.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must drastically reduce its prison population by some 33,000 inmates over the next two years.

It is the latest of several legislative attempts over the last five years to stem the tide of prison overcrowding.

In 2006, the issue prompted then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to start transferring more than 10,000 state inmates to private prisons in other states.

Last year, he signed legislation that increased early release credits, making it more difficult to send ex-convicts back to prison for parole violations. It also rewarded county probation departments for keeping criminals out of state prisons.

Brown signed a law in April shifting responsibility for tens of thousands of criminals from the state to local jurisdictions.

Los Angeles County Mayor Michael D. Antonovich sees this as a problem on many fronts.

“The shift of prisoners to county jails poses significant operational, fiscal and public safety concerns,” Antonovich said Tuesday. “There are numerous hidden costs and impacts, and our jails are not designed to house these offenders.”

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, shares county-cost concerns.

“While increasing the inmate population in local facilities is certainly a more appealing option than releasing them altogether, it’s important that we give local governments the resources they need to meet this new responsibility,” Smyth said. “We can’t just shift thousands of inmates from state to county supervision and expect local governments to absorb 100 percent of the costs.

“Part of the logic behind the proposal is that local facilities can house these inmates at a lower cost, but we still have a responsibility to give them some financial support.”


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