EDITORIAL: Sheriffs should scuttle their dream of jail building binge

Because of overcrowding, Central Valley county sheriffs say they can't keep dangerous criminals in their jails.

In a July 25 story in The Sacramento Bee, they attributed the problem to Gov. Jerry Brown's public safety realignment, where people convicted of non-serious, nonviolent and non-sex crimes serve time in county jails instead of more costly state prisons.

The sheriffs, including Fresno County's Margaret Mims, say they are having to release serious, repeat criminals because they don't have enough cells. They are clamoring to build more jails. This is claptrap, and these sheriffs need to look in the mirror.

Their jails are filled mostly with people who are awaiting trial, and have not been found guilty of a crime and sentenced.

According to the state's Jail Profile Survey for the last quarter of 2012, 80% of Stanislaus County jail inmates were unsentenced. In Kern County, 77% were unsentenced. The percentages were 69 in Fresno County, 64 in San Joaquin County, 59 in Sacramento County and 58 in Tulare County.

Many pretrial detainees are in jail because they don't have the money to post bail. They are stuck in jail as they wait for their court dates, even as the sheriffs gripe that they have to do early releases of serious criminals due to lack of space.

Here in Fresno County, realignment critics point to the case of a detainee (Tino Tufono) with a history of felony convictions who had been arrested on an auto theft charge. Due to limited jail capacity, he was let out of jail in November 2011, one month after realignment began, and killed a man a week later.

With an effective pretrial program to screen detainees to see who should be in jail and who should await trial in the community, such people would not be released.

San Joaquin County, despite Sheriff Steve Moore's sound and fury, is on the right track. County supervisors there rejected Moore's proposal to build a new 1,280 bed jail in favor of implementing a pretrial program and investing in programs that should reduce recidivism.

It does no good to reduce overcrowded state prisons only to create overcrowded jails with the same 70% recidivism rates. The aim should be to break the cycle of repeat offending, not to build more jails.