Sacramento’s main jail is located in the downtown area of the city and makes a standard practice of releasing people who have served their time at all hours of the day and night. It is well known that the first 72 hours after release is the time when former prisoners are the most likely to reoffend. Thus, releasing people in the middle of the night with no money or friends and family was a recipe for disaster. On top of that, the nearest probation office was miles away and didn’t open until sunrise.
Jails are known to be a generator of homelessness. People with no place to go and possible substance abuse or mental health issues tend to hang out near where they are released. They are both at a higher risk of committing a crime and of becoming a victim.
Several factors contribute to this problem. Since more non-violent prisoners are being released in California, people who became hardened after years in prison are suddenly on probation and have no support systems. In addition, a high percentage of bookings and subsequent releases in Sacramento involve the use of meth.
Fortunately, Sacramento’s Probation Department has forward-thinking leadership. Lee Seale, the Chief Probation Officer, was concerned about the homelessness resulting from people being released from jail.
Seale addressed the problem by working with the Sheriff’s Department to get inmates on probation brought directly to a probation office instead of the main jail. He also arranged for them to arrive in the morning, so intake officers have a full day to find housing and other support services.
So far it’s just a small pilot program, but Seale hopes to expand the program over time. It remains to be seen whether Seale’s efforts will make a dent in Sacramento’s homeless population. However, it is a promising start.