The Board of Supervisors Tuesday reversed course and voted 3-2 against moving forward with a contract to house county inmates in a jail run by the city of Taft.
The five-year, $75 million contract for 512 inmates was originally approved on Sept. 24. Opening up contract beds was recommended as a means to reduce overcrowding in county jails.
Supervisor Gloria Molina said she wanted to withdraw her support.
"We're going to get involved in an ongoing lawsuit," Molina warned. "We were misled. It was not ready."
Taft has sued the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, alleging that it breached a contract to house prisoners in the Kern County-based facility once AB 109 was passed. That 2011 law shifted responsibility for jailing non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offenders to county jails from state prisons.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, who had abstained from the original vote on Taft, supported Molina.
Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich cast the dissenting votes.
Antonovich warned that, without Taft, the county would be forced to let dangerous criminals out on the streets before their sentences were up.
Those convicted of lower-level offenses but originally charged with violent or serious crimes, such as manslaughter, kidnapping, mayhem, robbery and child molestation, serve an average of 40 percent of their sentences before being released, according to Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.
Molina agreed that a solution was needed that would allow for longer jail time, but said Taft was not the answer.
Civil rights advocates -- who have argued for months against moving inmates so far from their networks of family and friends -- praised the outcome. They have pushed the board for months to focus on alternatives to incarceration, such as pre-trial electronic monitoring and drug treatment programs rather than jail for those charged with drug possession.
The county has an outside consultant at work on a comprehensive plan for the jail system, including alternatives to jail time.