Local News

Thursday, Oct 18 2012 06:05 PM

A year into prison realignment, more felony cases filed in Kern County

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

There has been a 10 percent increase in criminal court cases filed in Kern County in a nine-month period studied since controversial legislation went into effect transferring custody and supervision of tens of thousands of inmates in state prison back to the counties from which they came.

AB 109 went into effect Oct. 1, 2011, and the Kern County District Attorney's office has determined that there were 536 more felony criminal cases filed in the county between January and September 2012 than there were between January and September of the year before, the DA's office revealed Thursday.

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Crimes in the Kern County Sheriff's Department's jurisdiction from Oct. 1, 2011 (the day AB 109 took effect) to Oct. 1, 2012:

* Burglary - 17.28 percent increase.

* Larceny - 8.04 percent increase.

* Grand theft auto - 21.62 percent increase.

* Robbery - 19.11 percent increase.

* Counterfeit forgery - 21.68 percent increase.

* Vandalism - 6 percent decrease.

* Homicide - 8.70 percent decrease.

* Rape - 9.38 percent decrease.

* Drug offenses - 11.59 percent increase.

* Weapons offenses - 17.88 percent increase.

* Kidnapping - 5.88 percent increase.

* Liquor violations - 1.36 percent increase.

* Loitering and trespassing - no change.

Source: Kern County Sheriff's Department

"There's been a tremendous increase in the cases we're having to review," said Assistant District Attorney Scott J. Spielman.

That uptick translates to more subpoenas served, criminalists working in the crime lab, calling of trial experts and cases being handled by deputy district attorneys.

Spielman said law enforcement said from the moment AB 109 was introduced that a surge in crime would ultimately be the legislation's result. He said somebody needs to hold the leadership in Sacramento responsible for finding a way to incarcerate habitual criminals.

"I think the numbers are just going to keep increasing because the more we don't lock up habitual criminals, the more it emboldens them," Spielman said.

He pointed out that even in the best of times there's a 70 percent recidivism rate among inmates. For the most part, the people being released are ones who haven't taken advantage of rehabilitation and job programs and staying out of trouble, Spielman said.

But part of making AB 109 effective is getting inmates to participate in those programs and to keep participating in them upon their release, said Kern County Undersheriff RoseMary Wahl. Before AB 109, the county didn't do much in the way of preventative measures with inmates.

Now, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence programs are being offered to inmates while they're in jail in the hopes that it will help them to not reoffend, Wahl said. If they show progress they're considered for release on electronic monitoring and will have to continue attending programs to stay out of jail.

"There have been some successes, but it's all new and we have to wait for a while to see how successful it is," Wahl said of the strategy.

Chief Deputy Kevin Zimmerman said it's difficult to say with certainty that the uptick in property crimes deputies have responded to over the past year is a result of AB 109, but it's probably at least partly responsible. He said Kern County is renowned statewide for being tough on crime and sending people to prison, and now they have to develop new mechanisms for dealing with these offenders and see which ones work best.

Kern County Probation Department Division Director of Adult Services TR Merickel said they've also been strongly impacted by the legislation, overseeing an extra 2,200 to 2,300 people since AB 109 took effect. About 1,900 of those are a result of post-release community supervision offenders -- meaning people released from state prison and put under the supervision of county probation instead of state parole.

"It's a different population than we've ever supervised before," Merickel said.

Merickel said they currently have enough resources to deal with the situation, but in the long run they're going to continue to need state funding to keep up with what is expected to be an increasingly larger group to supervise.

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