Crowded jails may worsen

San Francisco officials are watching a prison-overcrowding case that could be settled today in an agreement that would mean the transfer of hundreds of low-level criminals into the county’salready strained jail and probation systems.

A breakthrough in the federal class-action lawsuit, which has lasted for about 17 years, was announced last week in a teleconference. The inmates’ rights group that filed the lawsuit and a group of law enforcement and legislative officials fighting the case have come close to a compromise: the gradual release of thousands of state prison inmates to local jurisdictions between now and 2011.

If the compromise is rejected, the three federal judges presiding over the case could today set a date for trial.

If prisoners are released, it will fall on local governments to house and monitor those convicts, a task San Francisco leaders would undertake.

Convictions out of San Francisco account for about 1 percent of the state’s prison population; in comparison, Los Angeles County accounts for more than 30 percent, according the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In 2005, 1,680 people were sent to state prison from San Francisco Superior Court.

California’s 33 state prisons house about 170,000 inmates while having a capacity of 100,000.

City officials have expressed doubt that county jails, drug-treatment programs and probation officers could accommodate even a small influx.

San Francisco jails are brimming. There are 2,146 prisoners in a county jail with a 2,010 prisoner capacity. About 270 prisoners are in other jail programs, such as home detention and work release.

The Sheriff’s Department is also short on deputies. Each of the four pods in the county’s main jail are being run on overtime funds, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Eileen Hirst.

The City’s probation officers are also strained. Interim Chief Adult Probation Officer Patrick Boyd said probationers are dealing with probationer-to-officer ratios that are four to 10 times of that recommended by national standards.

Jim Stillwell, administrator for the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s drug and alcohol program, said that The City will definitely feel the impact of the case, particularly without knowing where the funding will come from to take on added inmates.

The settlement talks grew out of a series of federal lawsuits filed against the state by inmate advocates, most of which focused on the prison system’s crowded conditions.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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