WatchSonoma Watch

Sheriff: Influx of state prisoners making Sonoma County jail more violent


The diversion of state prisoners to county supervision has changed the culture in Sonoma County’s jail, making it more violent, while forcing the early release of petty criminals, Sheriff Steve Freitas said Wednesday.

Attacks on correctional deputies have increased 72 percent since the dramatic shift was instituted 12 months ago and fights between inmates are increasing, he said. However, he said he could not immediately provide specific data on the specific numbers of such incidents.

At the same time, the influx of more serious felons serving longer sentences has required the jail to release those convicted of lesser offenses on electronic home confinement, Freitas said.

Over nine months ending in September, the jail released 231 people eligible for detention alternatives who were serving time for such offenses as drunken driving, drug use and theft, Freitas said.

“We’re getting more lower-level offenders out and more sophisticated offenders in,” he said.

But a year after the state implemented the legislation to cut prison crowding, any further assessment of the program is unclear. There’s a general sense that local officials can do a better job of supervising hundreds of parolees from prison. And millions of dollars have flowed from the state to pay for more deputies and probation officers.

But whether the so-called “realignment” will help improve a statewide criminal re-offense rate of about 70 percent is uncertain. It will take more time to compile and analyze those statistics, said Bob Ochs, the county’s chief probation officer.

“It seems to be going smoothly so far,” said Ochs, who heads the county’s oversight group.

Under the new law, “nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual” criminals who normally would be sent to prison instead are sentenced to county jail. And people released from prison on parole are falling under county supervision.

Since Oct. 1, 2011, 186 people convicted of crimes once prison-worthy have been sent to the jail for sentences as long as eight years. The jail has a maximum capacity of 1,400 inmates and a current population of about 1,100.

And 303 people leaving prison have entered the county’s post-release supervision. Of those, 43 have re-offended and were sent to jail for 60 to 120 days, Ochs said.

To handle the increased caseload, the state paid the county an initial $3.6 million to hire extra deputies and probation officers and to open jail bed space and create a day reporting center. An additional $9.1 million is expected in the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Things will continue on a steady course if the money keeps coming, Ochs said.

“If realignment is adequately funded, it could work,” he said. “We could have greater success than the prison system.”

But prison diversion has its critics. And many are skeptical about the state’s commitment to pay for it indefinitely.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch fears the elimination of prison reduces the incentive for some people to obey the law. Most felonies are no longer prison eligible and people sent to jail are serving half time because of a change in the way credits are accrued, she said.

Ravitch said it’s possible the new law could be the cause of a recent reported uptick in property crime.

“So people are back on the street pretty quickly,” Ravitch said. “It is frustrating to us in that we do not have the potential prison sentence in our toolbox any more when dealing with offenders we are trying to hold accountable.”

Freitas said that to ensure adequate bed space in the jail, he’s instituted an electronic monitoring program that allows him to release minor offenders early.

As of Wednesday, there were 56 people on home confinement, he said. Nearly half were convicted drunken drivers, about 20 percent were convicted of drug crimes and an additional 20 percent were charged in thefts.

14 Responses to “Sheriff: Influx of state prisoners making Sonoma County jail more violent”

  1. R. B. Fish says:

    Again no leadership anywhere in Soco. They are all part of Demo liberal strategry to work with each other to keep they jobs. Absolutely pathetic again!

  2. David Broderick says:

    Gee, I thought only the well behaved state criminals were going to be reassigned to the county jails, not real criminals. Wasn’t that the Governor Brown plan?

    Who could have guessed this would happen? Not the socially minded, good deed public servants of Sonoma County.

    This whole concept was a train wreck from the beginning and will only get worse and cost the taxpayers much more in the end.

  3. Snarky says:

    GAJ :

    Thanks for posting that data. If you only listen to the local government people, you only get half the story.

    Here is another link:

    I’ve already mentioned the Modesto cop arrested for sexually molesting his 15 year old relative.

    So, here’s yet ANOTHER Modesto cop now accused of sexual assault of a prostitute through stalking while on the job and using his job to demand sex.


    Whats my point? Easy. The jail inmates often include corrupt cops caught in felonies… something that isn’t reported locally very often.

  4. GAJ says:

    Our incarceration rate is about half of Louisiana’s (#1) but three times that of Maine (#50.

    Surprisingly we are a tick below the national average, which I would not have guessed.

    Of the lowest 10 States in terms of incarceration rate, the one most like CA is Washington, so perhaps we should see what they’re doing that we can replicate.


  5. BigDogatPlay says:

    Apparently some are not reading the article all the way through. The questions of “in jail for what” seem to be getting answered.

    The state’s cascading sentenced felons, many of whom are violent offenders, down to the counties is reaping the expected outcome. Non-violent offenders, like burglars, are being turned out into supervised and non-supervised programs and, surprise, they offend again. Somewhat less violent local offenders aren’t getting dealt with at all and are just being turned into supervision programs which are understaffed. The Chief Probation Officer’s comment about the money continuing to flow is what writer’s would call foreshadowing. Just wait until a lot of the really violent offenders start getting turned out of the state institutions because of court orders to reduce overcrowding and only the most violent will be able to be kept confined.

    I hear the cries from many quarters about the wrong people being in jails. That argument is growing hollow in California and is no longer grounded in reality in many cases, some of which are seen in this article. The libertarian arguments about decriminalizing certain conducts and substances does nothing to alter the destructive behavior that comes from those conducts and substances. Sure it’s easy to blame government for creating so many “new crimes”, and 1 in 10 in jail or prison. But ask the other question…. why were that 1 in 10 committing crimes in the first place?

    And yet, in the final analysis, the powers that be in Sonoma County are still firmly set against the notion of law abiding citizens being able to protect themselves in public with concealed carry licenses.


  6. Dick Tracy says:

    Thanks Snarky. Your non sequitur comment at least tries to make this story a fit subject for “Politics.”

  7. Graeme Wellington says:

    There is an old Richard Pryor routine where he starts out saying the things all the liberals here are saying. Then he said he went to prison and all he could think about after living there was, “Thank God we have penitentiaries.”

  8. Out of touch says:

    Jeez- maybe some of you cop haters could open your homes up as half-way houses for all these non-violent people you seem to think are wrongly jailed.

  9. j galt says:

    Who could have seen this coming? Only a rocket scientist right!

  10. Snarky says:


    I have to agree with you.

    In jail for WHAT ??

    Half of the so called “crimes” that the government have dreamed up amount to nothing that the government has any business dictating to anyone about.

    After all, the local Sonoma County cops who intentionally sent out a political mailer that violated election laws are not being prosecuted, right?

    Government people don’t get sent to jail. The county prosecutor’s office sees to that.


  11. bear says:

    In jail for WHAT? A little reefer? Misdemeanor fraud? What?

    Why not demand victim compensation, community service or rehab, rather than locking them up at considerable expense to taxpayers?

    You folks are smart, right?

  12. Skippy says:

    “Nearly 1 out of a 100 adults is behind bars in America, the highest rate in the world!”

    Of course none of those nice innocent folks committed any crime, they just were the wrong race in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like Trayvon.
    Or they were incarcerated by racist judges and DA’s.
    Or they were cheated out of a good job by a wealthy Republican.

    Or maybe they actually did the terrible things of which they were convicted and deserve to be locked away from civilized society.

    Naahh, it had to be racism.

  13. James Bennett says:

    Well, they could use all those empty FEMA camps.

    They could release those pot prisoners.

    Since Obama has expanded the definition of “terrorist” to include most of us, maybe they’re expecting a high occupancy rate at the FEMA camps.

  14. Dan J Drummond says:

    Nearly 1 out of a 100 adults is behind bars in America, the highest rate in the world!