Sergeant Robert Goyeneche says the atmosphere at the Siskiyou County Jail is getting more  criminally sophisticated, with politics more like what’s commonly seen in state prisons.

County officials say this is  the biggest change they’ve seen since the state’s public safety realignment went into effect nearly four months ago.

Under realignment, parolees (now officially referred to as Post-Release Community Supervision participants, or PRCS) cannot be sent back to state prison unless they commit a new serious felony.
PRCS who violate the terms of their parole are now being reprimanded to the jail, and the local courts have no jurisdiction over them, Goyeneche said.

“These guys and gals are experienced. They’ve been through the system... they know how prison works,” said Goyeneche. “Some of them are involved in prison gangs, which can be a huge problem.”

Also, local courts can no longer sentence non-violent, non-serious felons to state prison; and because judges have more discretion in their sentences, those convicted in Siskiyou County courtrooms of drug trafficking and similar crimes can be sentenced to longer jail terms.

Previously, if a person was sentenced to more than a year in jail, they’d serve their time in state prison, Sheriff Jon Lopey said. Realignment changed that.

Goyeneche said the majority of the jail’s 104 beds are taken up by felons. On Feb. 1, for example, there were 90 inmates at the jail, and 88 of them were felons. The other two were misdemeanants.

About 75 percent of those are felons who are in jail while awaiting trial.

Those who commit misdemeanors are usually booked and released because there’s no room to house them, Goyeneche said.

“They’re onto it... they know it when they come in that if they’re here for a failure to appear or something, in all likelihood, they won’t be staying. We just physically cannot hold them,” said Goyeneche. “At some point, it becomes a revolving door.”

Technical issues
Problems arise when those in jail cannot be housed in the same block because of gang affiliations or other rivalries, Goyeneche explained. There are only two maximum security blocks for male inmates at the Siskiyou County Jail, and they can only be split up in so many ways, which often makes in impossible to utilize all of the jail’s 104 beds.

“For example, we have members of the North Mexican gangs, who don’t get along with South Mexican gang members,” said Goyeneche.

Many of these inmates get to Siskiyou County because Interstate 5 runs through the county, said Allison Giannini, who’s in charge of alternate sentencing programs at the jail.

There are also inmates who are affiliated with the Siskiyou  County Soldiers, a faction of white supremacists, Goyeneche said.

“It’s usually not an issue if there’s only one of them. The problems arise when there’s another gang member who may see them being polite and getting along with a rival. This could cause problems for them when they do reach state prison,” Goyeneche explained.

Though housing such inmates is nothing new, before realignment, they’d only be at the local jail for a short time, Goyeneche said.

“We have to make sure enemies aren’t put in together, where they might conspire and recruit.”

When such inmates knew they’d only be at the jail for a few days, Goyeneche said, they’d often lay aside their differences and save rivalries for when they got to prison, but now that’s changing. For example, they’ve already confiscated some manufactured weapons of the type you’d find in state prisons.

“Having these kinds of issues causes some safety issues and concerns for our correctional deputies,” said Lopey. “It’s definitely a challenge.”

At all times, the Siskiyou County Jail is staffed by five correctional deputies on the floor and one supervisor. There are also two deputies available for transporting prisoners, Goyeneche said.

New jail?
To help alleviate some of the problems the jail is facing, Lopey said the county is working to obtain state funding to build a new jail.

Lopey said the county identified $24,000 in forfeiture funds to pay for the needs assessment which was necessary to complete the an application for the AB 900 Local Jail Construction Financing Program.

After the Board of Supervisors approved it, the application was submitted to the Correctional Standards Authority in January, Lopey said. “We are on track and expect to find out if we were successful in the next couple of months.”

Lopey said he’s in communication with many of the other north state sheriffs, and many of their counties are also competing for the $24 million pot of AB 900 funding, so the going might be tough.

Lopey said a modern jail would adequately serve the growing needs of Siskiyou County for the next 25 to 50 years. If built at an appropriate location, the jail could be added on to as needed.

The current jail was built in the ’80s, Lopey said. “Pretty soon the bag’s going to be too full, and our jail will not be able to absorb these extra prisoners... We need a modern jail to serve the needs of Siskiyou County today and in the future.”

Alternate sentencing programs
To help reduce the jail population and shrink the recidivism rate (which is currently about 70 percent in California) Siskiyou County is in the midst of beefing up alternate sentencing programs, Lopey explained.

Most of those in the Siskiyou County Jail have extenuating circumstances, such as substance abuse problems,  anger management issues, mental health issues, as well as medical problems that need to be addressed.

“The county must pay for this,” Lopey said. “These problems used to be consistent with state prisons, but now we must ramp up our services... it’s a challenge.”

Funding to formulate these programs and defray costs to the county for things such as medical care for inmates will come from the state as part of realignment, Lopey said.

The county has two supervised work crews that provide services to local nonprofits and other community projects, Giannini said. One crew is for misdemeanants and the other has a strong leader that is “very in tune” with what’s going on with their crew and is highly capable of managing them.

“Lots of time, it’s a matter of pride, of giving back to the community,” Giannini said.

Siskiyou County also has electronic monitoring programs, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, anger management education and training, as well as parenting classes and a high school GED program. These programs will soon be expanded.

Eventually, Giannini said all those on these alternate programs will meet in a centralized location in the old Juvenile Hall building in Yreka each morning. They’ll be able to begin their day there and attend all necessary classes at the central hub.

Giannini said while there are “lots of negatives” about having to deal with more prisoners at the local level, they are all people who deserve the best chance possible at recovery.

“With the right programs and training, most of them can become the kind of person you’d want to sit next to at a Little League game... they’re all a part of our community,” she said. “When they’re doing well, it’s a trickle down effect on our entire county.”