17 News Special Report: How state is adding to jail burden

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - So far in our investigation of factors making Kern's county lock-up a more dangerous place, we've seen how budget cuts have strained jail maintenance and staffing to the breaking point.
 
In the final report of this three-part series on conditions within the Kern County jails, we'll take a look at how the state is adding to the burden.
 
AB 109 is a state law that requires county jail facilities to take in inmates from California's overcrowded prisons. 
     
The state was under federal court orders to reduce its prison population or face huge penalties.  As Tami Mlcoch reports, now the county has to deal with the consequences.
 
"We'll make it work the best that we can with what we have to work with."
 
Sheriff Donny Youngblood is looking for ways to recoup losses from years of budget cuts.  One way is to house inmates from the state's prisons. "They told us that they'd probably be willing by September 2017 to contract with us. They said we'll give you 400 inmates if you could take them. We said we would prefer 100. We could do 100 without additional staff."
     
The state is under court order to reduce its prison population. One way it's done that is through AB 109. The 2011 law takes some low-level felony offenders out of prison and puts them into county jails.
     
But jail staff say these so-called low-level felons are making Lerdo Jail a far more dangerous place. "That's been a game changer for us. We house inmates who would typically do a year in county jail, we now have ones that are serving 5, 10, I think we have one serving a sentence of 14 years. The facility was not built to do that," said Commander Tim Melanson. 
     
"The caliber of inmate we have now is a much more hardened inmate-- they're more sophisticated, they're more violent. We have more inmate fights, much more inmate on officer assaults, " said Chief Deputy Shelly Castaneda.
 
The security issues are directly related to deputy safety. AB 109 has added to the pressure deputies are working under. "We're housing people for years when the jail was only meant to house people for up to a year, thanks to AB 109, we're seeing inmates come back into our jail system that should never have been here," said Sgt. David Kessler, KLEA.   
 
The influx of hardened criminals has resulted in more violence and gang activity in the jail. Younger inmates are being victimized, and sometimes recruited into gangs. "A lot of times it's involuntary recruiting. It's join or face the consequences. We see a lot more organized assaults on inmates, more gang politics inside gang facilities. All things that we've seen as a result of AB 109 that just make managing a jail a little more difficult," added Melanson. 
 
To deal with the increased violence, the deputies have been rethinking how they handle inmates, starting from the ground up. "We're now having to redo our tactics, redo our training, redo everything because of this threat and because of this situation the state has put us in," added Kessler. 
 
At every level, researching this story, the sheriff's personnel assured us they give the safety and security of inmates highest priority. They say it's not a matter of coddling prisoners-- it's a matter of meeting the sheriff's constitutional duty to ensure inmates in his custody are kept in humane conditions. 
     
It also translates directly to deputy safety-- because unsafe conditions in a jail lead to crises that put deputies at greater risk.
     
We'd like to thank Chief Deputy Shelly Castaneda and Commander Tim Melanson for allowing us in the jail and speaking with us frankly about the problems they face in doing their jobs.
 

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