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Seeking innovative ways to reduce jail violence

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In his excellent look at violence in county jails this past week, the News-Sentinel’s Kristopher Anderson documented a frightening consequence of the state’s “prison realignment.”

That’s the bloodless euphemism for the state’s reaction to overcrowding in its prisons.

Thousands of California’s most violent convicts have been sent to serve lengthy sentences in county jails that were designed for short-term holding of people awaiting trial and those sentenced for misdemeanor crimes.

In less than three years, the number of prisoners being attacked in custody is up by a third and the number of jailers attacked has nearly doubled.

Anderson did more than just document mayhem. His digging turned up a promising solution in our backyard — the Sacramento County Jail in downtown Sacramento.

Jailers there began experimenting with a plan that assigns prisoners a rank based on their behavior and the violent nature of their crimes. Prisoners with like rankings are housed together and those ranked higher receive extra visits and time out of their cells.

Apparently this reward system creates an incentive for good behvior. While most jails are seeing more beatings, stabbings and killings, the rate of violence in Sacramento County Jail is trending to drop by half.

Let’s hope the word gets out and this success can be repeated elsewhere in the state.

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