DUBLIN -- Burdened by too many inmates for his deputies to handle, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas has signed a deal to jail up to 100 men in Alameda County's sprawling, undercapacity Santa Rita Jail.

The first 50 inmates could arrive from the wine country as early as this week after they are bused 87 miles south from Santa Rosa to the Dublin jail. Monterey County's sheriff forged a similar deal last year to ship inmates 89 miles north from an overcrowded jail in Salinas.

Propelling the contracts -- a cash generator for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office -- is the 2011 state prison realignment that shifted to counties the responsibility of handling many lower-level convicts.

The Santa Rita Jail is photographed in Dublin, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
The Santa Rita Jail is photographed in Dublin, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

The new state policy increased the inmate population in Sonoma County's two jails by more than 13 percent, and followed years of staffing cuts, said Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker.

"We actually have some beds available," Walker said. "What we don't have are staff. Our staff members have been working over 40 hours mandated overtime for the past 12 months. ... It's been just brutal for our staff to work that many hours."

Each inmate sent to Dublin will cost Sonoma County about $80 a day paid to Alameda County.

"They transport them. We house them," said Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern. "We can run our jail more efficiently if we make better use of our vacant bed space."


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The Santa Rita Jail had about 4,200 inmates and room for more when Ahern became sheriff in 2007, but declining crime rates and changes in policing practices have emptied cells. Now, the Dublin jail complex houses between 3,200 to 3,500 inmates daily, Ahern said.

For years, some of those beds were filled with immigrants held for the federal government because they were suspected of being in the country illegally, but new state and local policies this year are freeing many of those detainees, leaving even more room for out-of-county criminal convicts.

Ahern negotiated the Monterey County deal last year and also offered bed space to other Northern California sheriffs. The $80-a-day revenue generated from incoming inmates is all used to offset budget shortfalls, Ahern said.

Alameda County's fee is still less than what it costs to keep them in Santa Rosa each day, but Walker said cost is not the main reason to ship inmates south.

"Nobody wants to do it, but it's the least of the evils," Walker said.

All of the inmates coming to Dublin will require minimum security and have already been sentenced for a crime, so they will not need to travel back and forth to court hearings, Walker said. But he said Sonoma County also plans to cycle longer-term inmates back to its own jail after several weeks in Dublin so that they can be closer to family members.

"Our goal is not to send someone there for six months," Walker said.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved the contract at its meeting Tuesday. Sonoma County supervisors also approved the deal.