LOCAL L.A. Now

Probation chief wants to keep tabs on felons after jail terms end

A top Los Angeles County lawman wants judges to issue more “split sentences” so state felons being held in local jails under prison realignment must also serve a period of probation.

Without that, Chief of Probation Jerry Powers told county supervisors Tuesday, officials have no ability to make sure the inmates get into substance abuse treatment and other programs once released from behind bars.

Powers' comments came as he joined with public health officials in a progress report on the realignment program. Law enforcement officials said they continue to struggle with offenders who abscond after being released to county probation supervision.

Under the program -- devised to reduce state prison overcrowding per court order -- certain nonviolent offenders who previously would have served in state penitentiaries are now sentenced to county jail, and those serving state prison sentences are released to county probation supervision instead of state parole.

About 4% of felons sentenced to Los Angeles County jails are given split sentences, under which the time they would otherwise spend in jail is split between jail and probation. But most felons who serve their full term in jail are not required to submit to probation supervision.

Powers told supervisors that he would "highly recommend" encouraging more split sentences.

"It enhances public safety, and the benefits outweigh the costs," he said.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina expressed skepticism, pointing out that the probation department is already having problems with offenders who are released from prison and then flee from supervision.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department reported that there are active warrants for 1,110 such absconders. The department spent $276,203 last month tracking them and arrested 23.

"If we lose them the moment they get out of jail, it’s all for naught," Molina said. "If you can’t get them, the next best thing is to lock them up."

A report by the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee did not make any recommendations on split sentencing but noted that one option would be to pursue legislation that would allow the full custody term to be imposed on people who violate the probation portion of their split sentence.

The report also noted that legislative efforts to require post-custody supervision for all felons sentenced to county jail under realignment have so far been unsuccessful.

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Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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