BAKERSFIELD, CA - Our county jail used to house low level offenders, like drunk drivers, petty thieves and those awaiting trial. But since prison realignment, deputies said it's more like a state prison. With more violence and more gang members, deputies say it's a whole new world at Lerdo.
To lower the state prison population, Governor Brown enacted prison realignment, sentencing supposedly non-violent offenders to county jail instead of prison. The prison population is down, but county jails say they're dealing with the mess adjusting to housing a sophisticated criminal they're not built for.
"I'm hoping to have a good day and nothing serious happens," said Juan Alaniz, Senior Detentions Deputy at Lerdo's Pretrial Facility. "Because you never know what's going to happen."
For detentions deputies at Lerdo Jail it's a daily battle.
"We get dispatched from one situation to the next all day long," said Jesse Luevanos, Administrative Sergeant at Lerdo's Pretrial Facility.
Weapons are hidden everywhere.
"Those come out of the units," said Alaniz.
Inmates make shanks out of a chain link fence.
"Sometimes pieces of that come off," said Ed Komin, Division Commander at Lerdo.
A toothbrush and razor are transformed into a knife.
"We find more and more weapons than we did before," said Alaniz.
Nunchucks are molded out of plastic from the commissary.
"It's amazing what they can come up with," said Komin.
Sometimes it's art, like a wallet and purse made out of candy wrappers. But, weapons are far more common and lately used more often.
"We have incidents in barracks on a daily basis," said Jeff Martin, Administrative Senior at Lerdo's Minimum Facility.
Three years ago, Lerdo was full of small time criminals in jail for a year at most.
"Back in the day this was DUI drivers and petty thieves, you know, doing misdemeanor time on weekends," said Martin.
Now it's full of felons serving multiple year sentences, and for the majority it's not their first time behind bars.
"We very rarely get people who have not been up to the state prison," said Alaniz.
Since realignment, incidents like fights are up 22 percent from nearly 10,902 a year to more than 13,345. Now, 59 percent of inmates are in gangs and 91 percent are felons.
"We have one inmate that's going to stay with us for 14 years, so the average time has risen dramatically," said Komin.
The average stay went from less than a year up to two or three years.
"They have more time here so they have more time to watch our habits and point out our weaknesses," said Detentions Deputy Brian Johnson.
Sometimes that means destroying jail property.
"See the TV on the wall? They'll jump up and tear the TV down," said Alaniz.
"They're ripping the fire suppression systems out of the wall causing the water to come out and flood the entire unit," said Luevanos.
Other times they're a little more creative.
"See the cards, they made a 45. That means they want us to change the channel to 45," said Alaniz.
That's a prison practice inmates in Lerdo's Pretrial Facility would have never done a few years ago.
"You know inmates before they used to come and do their time, watch a little bit of TV go to sleep, okay it's your out date, okay see ya, they'd leave. Now they're just different," said Alaniz.
"When I started ten to eleven years ago the gates were open on all these barracks," said Martin.
This allowed 900 minimum security inmates to roam free.
"You had 22 barracks open at one time," said Martin.
Now, they're all locked up.
"I think for us the word minimum is very loosely used," said Martin. "It's not a minimum yard anymore. It's a prison yard."
And the yard at times, isn't safe anymore for those one-time offenders, which is why deputies shuffle many of the shoplifters and drunk drivers into their virtual jail by allowing those people to serve a sentence on an electronic monitoring system.
"People are still being supervised and they're still being watched, but they're not in physical custody," said Komin.
They do all of this with the same amount of staff.
"A lot of staff works 16 hours a day because of shortages in personnel," said Luevanos.
The Sheriff's Department is hiring more detentions deputies, 20 last year and 17 this year. But even with the extra personnel, the jail will still have the problem of overcrowding.
"There's no such thing as a free space in our jail," said Komin.
Commander Komin said the jail is federally capped at housing 2,844 inmates.
"We have more people coming in and we have more inmates than we can house," said Komin.
Every day the jail releases 30, 40, even 60 inmates, some before they've served their sentence.
Detentions deputies at Lerdo say they'd keep the inmates in jail if they had a choice because the same criminals who tear TVs in jail, make weapons, and beat other inmates will eventually be let out, bringing the problems behind these fences into a community near you.
"It's a whole different world than when I started 14 years ago," said Martin.
There is also an increase in inmates suffering from mental illness. Now, one-third of the population needs treatment.
The jail is working to rehabilitate these inmates. New programs fund stays in sober living facilities and other recovery centers.