Some county judges change sentencing patterns


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California’s new felon imprisonment law, which requires low-level offenders to serve their time in county jail rather than state prison, is beginning to reshape how some county judges hand down those sentences.

A study by the Chief Probation Officers of California finds an increasing number of judges using split sentences, requiring offenders to spend part of their time in jail and the other part in a community program or under probation. Without a split sentence, the entire term is spent in jail and when offenders are released, there is no followup.


From the time the new prison law took effect in October 2011 to June 2012, the probation officers group reports, 23% of all local prison sentences were split. That means an increase in the responsibilities of county probation offices, but a lighter load on jails.

However, the organization says there is an inconsistent use of the sentencing tool among the state’s 58 counties. Judges in 18 counties deliver split sentences to more than half their felons, including Contra Costa and San Joaquin. On the other hand, only 5% of Los Angeles County felons, for example, are given split sentences.

Probation departments also are responsible for providing post-release supervision of low-level offenders that remain in California’s prisons. The probation officers group says 29,000 such former state prisoners now report to county probation.

The number of felons now under county jurisdiction is now much closer to what the state told counties to expect when realignment was enacted in 2011. The state total was 106% of the predicted number in June, down from 140% of the prediction in October 2011.


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-- By Paige St. John in Sacramento