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Some California convicts getting out early with no probation checks

  • In this photo taken Friday, March 6, 2013, San Bernardino County Probation Officers from left: Chris Condon, and Eric Poindexter search the possessions of parolee Kenneth Lucas, as he gets arrested for the second time in months after he was released just 60 days into a six-month sentence, during a night probation compliance sweep in Apple Valley, Calif. ((AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes))

TUSTIN — Part of California's transformative prison realignment law was intended to give prosecutors and judges sentencing flexibility: Some convicts could receive a combination of custody and supervision, an approach favored by the state, while others could escape probation in exchange for serving longer sentences.

Figures reviewed by The Associated Press show many counties are doing what Gov. Jerry Brown had hoped they would not do by sentencing the overwhelming majority of convicts to the longer jail terms, or so-called straight time. Because of jail overcrowding, some are getting out well before they should and then receive essentially a free pass because they cannot be supervised under the terms of their sentence.

Local law enforcement agencies and probation officers worry that they have no way to track these felons as they re-enter the community, frequently after serving very little time in county jail.

"There's no follow-up, no treatment services, no nothing," said Michelle Scray, the chief probation officer in San Bernardino County. "It's a community protection issue, and it's got to be addressed."

The Democratic governor and state corrections officials hoped that county prosecutors and judges would opt more frequently for the jail-and-supervision combination, or split time, offered under the two-year-old realignment law. They saw the shorter sentences as a way to reduce inmate populations in county jails and the immediate follow-up as a way to better integrate felons back into their communities.

Yet just 31 percent of county convicts have received those split sentences, while more than two-thirds have received sentences that do not include any supervision upon release, according to the most recent data compiled by the Chief Probation Officers Association of California. The numbers cover October 2011, when the law went into effect, through September 2012 and are the latest available.

The numbers vary from county to county, with some counties in Northern California sentencing the majority of realigned inmates to a split sentence. But a number of heavily populated Southern California counties are shying away from that option, helping skew the statewide numbers.

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