The sheriffs of Sonoma and Mendocino counties joined law enforcement from across the state in Sacramento this week to bend Gov. Jerry Brown's ear about the impact of the diversion of state prisoners to county supervision.
From dental floss added to the commissary, metal doors replacing wooden ones and an increase in violence, the impacts have been wide-ranging, North Coast jail officials said.
The average stay at the Sonoma County Jail has increased from 22 days to 287 since the so-called realignment of prisoners to county custody began in October 2011.
"We are hiring staff, but that isn't keeping up with influx of inmates," Sheriff Steve Freitas said. "We have extreme overtime rates and worker-related injuries and burnout related to that."
Jails were once places where inmates stayed for a year or less.
That changed in 2011, when the state began transferring inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to county jails to alleviate crowding in California's $9 billion-a-year prison system. The decision followed a string of legal defeats in federal court over conditions at the prisons, which were holding more than double the number of inmates for which they were designed.
Now, the longest terms currently being served are 15 years for a woman at the Sonoma County jail and 14 years for a man in Mendocino County.
The longest sentence for a California jail inmate is a 43-year term for a man in Los Angeles.
"That was beyond what anyone had thought about," Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said. "No one would have thought it would have come to this."
The average daily population at the Mendocino County Jail jumped from about 195 inmates prior to October 2011 to about 275 inmates today, Allman said.
Realignment boosted Sonoma County's female inmate population the most, by about 33 percent, Detention Division Lt. Mazen Awad said. About 16 percent of women incarcerated would have gone to prison prior to the change. Women now take up two wings at the main jail, rather than just one.
For the population as a whole, a daily average of about 1,078 inmates through May 22, about 20 percent of people currently in the Sonoma County Jail would have previously gone to prison.
Whereas jails were set up to manage urgent health matters until release, they are now facing long-term health needs among those people who will spend years of their lives in jail.
Medical staff now must start planning for annual dental cleanings and other preventative care previously unnecessary with the majority of inmates staying less than a month.
Health care "is truly the 800-pound gorilla," Freitas said.
Counties are on the hook for medical care, but currently there are no funds coming from the state dedicated to boosting jail health services, Freitas said.
The county isn't yet feeling the pinch because of an existing contract with the company that provides the jail's health care, Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group.
But the Sheriff's Office will renegotiate its contract in January and is bracing for what could be a steep increase in costs, Freitas said.
The so-called realignment inmates have far greater mental health needs, and treating them could be expensive, Allman said.
"That's going to cost us not just extra time, but huge amounts of resources to pay for professionals that we hadn't budgeted for," Allman said.