The Gridley Kiwanis Club meets every Tuesday at noon at Black Bear Diner and welcomes visitors who would like to hear more about their club and enjoy an informative program.
Such was the case when Butte County Undersheriff Kory Honea explained the impact of the Prison Realignment Act-AB 109 which passed a year ago October.
Assembly Bill 109 was passed as a way to reduce California's prison population by 33,000 inmates by June 2014.
"This is the most significant change of the criminal justice system in 30 years," Honea told Kiwanis members. He explained that the Butte County Sheriff's Department worked hard and smart to deal with the impact of the bill passing.
"This was the perfect storm at the State level, due to fiscal insolvency," he stated. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision to reduce the population in prisons. Government did what they could do, which meant shifting the responsibility to each county.
Although people convicted of certain crimes do their time, those with lesser offenses, such as non-serious or non violent crimes, are now sentenced to local Sheriff's Deputies and Probation Officers visiting on a regular basis. The manufacturing of methamphetamine is considered a non-serious crime in relation to AB 109. Persons committing a burglary of a business are considered non serious. Those who are arrested for narcotics sale, grand theft or vehicle theft are now sentenced to go to the county jail.
Butte County's Jail has operated under a cap since the 1970's with a bed capacity of 614. They can function better at 590 being able to leave a certain amount of beds available as as a precautionary method.
If Butte County were to receive 240 new prisoners per year due to overcrowding elsewhere, the jail would be at capacity in three years, taking up the entire capacity leaving no room for this county's prisoners.
Honea said it didn't pay to complain so instead, his department came up with a solution to ensure public safety. The Alternative Safety Program assesses the risk to the public of individuals and identifies factors that caused problems, such as what crimes committed.
"We are managing risks, turning offenders homes into jails by monitoring them with GPS. We have deputies checking on prisoners seven days a week conducting searches. Prisoners cannot leave their homes unless they have the permission of the Sheriff's Department," Honea said.
Prisoners are able to go grocery shopping or go to doctor appointments but the primary reason to leave their residence is to attend the County's Day Reporting Center for drug and alcohol counseling, the literacy program (run by the Butte County Friends of the Library) and to develop job skills.
"A number of them have completed the program and have gotten jobs and are not back in custody," he said.
Page 2 of 2 - The Alternative Safety Program is in conducted in partnership with Chico State University who completed the initial study.
"Our approach is showing promise," Honea stated.
The return-to-custody radio used to be 70 percent but now, with the new program, it amounts to just 25 percent but could increase to 35 percent. The program has had 260 people since it's inception but is at 115 today.
Senate Bill 1022 authorized $500 million in funding to expand jails which is a good thing because according to Honea the Butte County Grand Jury has often expressed displeasure at the 1963 Butte County Jail, not the most proficient to house prisoners. Not only does it authorize bonds for local criminal justice facilities, it also provides medical, Dental and mental health treatment or housing to inmates.
In 2010, a total of 210 prisoners were released due to overcrowding at Butte County's jail and 400 were released in 2011. A total of 1,500 have been released this calendar year because of overcrowding.
There are currently 595 prisoners in Butte County Jail but with the early release program a total of 1,000 prisoners are being seen.
Honea and Deputy Jason Winkel encouraged members to help them get the word out, no matter how small the crime, please call it in.
"Unless we know about it, we can't do anything about it," Winkel stated. If you would like to report something suspicious happening in the County in Gridley or Biggs call Winkel at 538-7322.