When Orange County officials reactivated the county parole board six months ago, they hoped it would help ease the population at the Orange County Jail.
They got plenty of response, but it didn't make much of a dent in the overcrowding.
Since notices were posted at the jail in August, letting inmates know that county parole was available, the parole board has received 111 applications, according to a report sent to the county supervisors Tuesday. But only six of those 111 inmates were paroled. A seventh was paroled pending his acceptance at an alcohol-recovery program.
Decided to Promote It
The county parole board has existed for years, but it wasn't until last June, when the county was under heavy federal court pressure to reduce the jail population, that county officials decided to promote it within the jail. Before then, the board got no more than half a dozen applications a year, primarily because inmates did not know the board existed.
Only inmates who have served at least half their sentences are eligible for county parole. With a few exceptions, inmates at the Orange County Jail serve no more than a year.
Most of the inmates who have applied for parole since August have not been eligible, said Rex Castellaw, chief deputy probation officer.
Of the 25 who actually went to a parole hearing, all but the seven were denied, primarily because of probation reports stating that they were not good candidates for release. Of the six released, one has been rearrested on other charges.
Sheriff Brad Gates was not enthusiastic about the plan to revive the parole board but agreed to try it. Undersheriff Raul Ramos said Tuesday that Gates and his staff are not surprised that it has had little impact on the jail population.
"Most of the people who would be eligible for release have already been given probation by the courts and are not in the jail to start with," Ramos said. "We're not opposed to trying it, but we recognized to start with it wasn't the panacea for solving our jail problems."
For other reasons, the population has decreased from more than 2,000 to about 1,600 since the supervisors approved plans to revive the parole board.
Most of the reduction has come from the use of temporary tents at the James A. Musick Honor Farm.
But Castellaw said he is optimistic that the county parole board will remain active.
"This jail crisis is an ongoing thing, and even though (the parole board) has provided only modest relief, you just can't cut off anything that will help," Castellaw said.
And parole, he said, improves public safety.
"Most of those who would be released will be released to alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs," Castellaw said. "If they served their full sentence, we would have no control over what they did once they were out."
The parole board consists of Wyatt Hart, the central jail commander; Don Lattimore, a representative of the county Probation Department, and John Gill, a retired Army colonel appointed by Superior Court judges.