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October inmate release slated to bring jobs to Riverside County

August 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Thousands of convicted felons will soon be released from state prisons to ease overcrowding. Many are worried about the consequences, but there is an upside: new jobs.

Counties are going to need more probation officers just to keep track of all the newly released inmates.

Starting in October, 1,600 nonviolent convicted felons will be released from state prison and sent back to the same Riverside County communities where they committed crimes.

And instead of serving their sentences behind bars, in many cases they'll simply be placed under house arrest.

It's a controversial plan, but Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster says while he's still concerned, he's on board with it.

"We have to protect public safety, number one, but it looks like in this fashion, we can continue to do that and can continue to save money, and give these offenders a better chance to go straight," said Buster.

And create new jobs in Riverside County, because as part of the state plan, California has agreed to pay the salaries of more than 70 new probation officers in the area.

The state says this will actually save money. It costs $49,000 a year to put a convicted felon in state prison.

But if you were to instead hire a probation officer to keep track of that criminal, it would cost $2,143 per year.

But not everyone is in complete agreement on this idea.

"Well, the state's trying to save money, I understand that, trying to save money. We're all trying to do that, both personally and professionally, and that's a good thing. But at the same time, at what cost?" said Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach.

And while Zellerbach is concerned about how this inmate release will affect public safety, he also warns people not to get too excited about all the new jobs in the probation department. He wants to remind where the money is coming from: the state.

"And we've seen what the legislature, how they can't function very well, at least as far as when it comes to budgets, so we don't know what the future holds in that regard," said Zellerbach.

It's estimated that by this time next year, there will be an additional 3,200 people who would have gone to state prison who instead will be residing in Riverside County.

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