• Debate Over Early Prisoners Release Rages On

    by Winston Chua

    Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Sheriff Lee Baca and Probation Chief Jerry Powers discussed public safety and the state’s realignment program Monday at the supervisor’s annual Police Chief Luncheon.

    “With crime rates rising in many of our local cities, the Governor’s realignment program is a proven threat to public safety which has overwhelmed probation departments and local law enforcement agencies statewide,” said Antonovich.

    Violent or serious offenders already serving their sentence (or who will serve their sentence) in state prison are either released on state parole or transferred to the county’s Postrelease Community Supervision program. What determines where they are sent is their most recent offense not their overall record.

    A total of 14,337 non-violent or non-serious offenders (with no history of violent/serious offense) have been sent to county jails since October 2011 in L.A. County, the start of the realignment program. Currently in L.A. County there are about 6,000 inmates in jails who prior to realignment would have to serve their time in state prison, according to Executive Director of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordinator Committee Mark Delgado.

    However, what constitutes what is “non-violent” or “non-serious” is a long laundry list of offenses that are no doubt open to interpretation. They include: money laundering, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, numerous categories of assaults with weapons, child abduction, child molestation with prior record, drug possession, firearms with drug offense and much, much more.

    There are, however, 60-70 additional felonies that are eligible for state prison not currently classified under “serious” or “violent.”

    The Supervisor’s Communications Deputy Tony Bell lambasted both Governor Brown and state prison unions for this legislation (known as AB 109) that shifted responsibility for inmates from the state to the counties. Violent and serious offenders who have not yet been sentenced are still eligible for state prisons.

    In addition, Delgado said non-AB 109 inmates are serving a smaller percentage of their time to make room for the influx of transfers.

    The communications deputy explained that this public safety threat could be largely avoided if prisoners could be relocated to less crowded out-of-state prisons or to non-union state facilities that can handle more inmates.

    To transfer prisoners to private prisons or out of state, however, would be an affront to state employee unions, said Bell, who also added that shifting responsibility from state to county has resulted in less inmate supervision.

    Advocates for Public Safety representative Lynn Brown added that while the rehabilitative therapy offered by the new system is good, many dangerous people are being released under a deceptive “low-risk” classification.

    There have already been documented reports of murder and domestic violence resulting from the realignment program and the state’s recidivism rate has been reported to be about 70 percent.

    A panel of state judges in 2011 ruled that prison overcrowding was the primary cause of unconstitutionally poor inmate medical and mental health care, a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the prison population has shrunk by 25,000; federal courts say another 9,300 must go by year’s end.

    Counties are reportedly housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less.


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