California’s sheriffs are faced with challenges when choosing how to effectively manage their jails. They have no control over the individuals that are coming in through the front door of their facilities, or in what numbers. They are, however, the sole gatekeepers to the back door – they decide who stays and who goes.
Under Realignment some counties, in which the local justice systems rely heavily on incarceration, are putting extra pressure on their sheriffs to manage their burgeoning jail populations safely. A new fact sheet by CJCJ (see below), suggests four jail population management strategies that could help sheriffs and other justice stakeholders to address these challenges.
For example, local law enforcement has the discretion to reduce responses to federal immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) detainer requests. These requests are non-binding, and occupy valuable jail bed days for suspected undocumented immigrants who may not pose a public safety risk. In fact, a recent CJCJ report highlighted the number of suspected undocumented immigrants with no criminal history confined to our local jails. Sheriffs must make choices to reserve their jails for people who pose an immediate threat to public safety. Santa Clara County is already leading the way by passing an ordinance in 2011 that effectively ended local enforcement of these requests.
This is just one example of how local practitioners can deliberately change their approach to jail population management. Other suggestions in the fact sheet include community-based service centers, alternative sentencing, and pretrial services. Previously, CJCJ and other organizations have highlighted local model practices and programming that have proven to be effective at alleviating jail bed space while achieving the goals of public safety. In fact, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There is a wealth of empirical research available on interventions that help justice administrators manage their local jails, but sheriffs cannot do it alone.
The few strategies highlighted in this fact sheet demonstrate that the collaboration of justice administrators such as the Sheriff, District Attorney, and Probation Chief can and does result in safe and efficient use of jails, often eliminating overcrowding and negating expensive jail construction.
In this post-Realignment era, it is imperative for all 58 counties to take measures that ensure local systems do not burst at the seams, as the state system has. Counties that continue to rely on prisons and jails to contain their criminal element put unnecessary strain on their sheriffs. It is time for criminal justice partners to embrace county-specific interventions and apply community resources to reduce the use of incarceration and increase public safety.
Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Tuesday, 27 August 2013