Californians Lose Big Under the Governor's Early Release Plan

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

As the Vice Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I know firsthand that there are always tough choices when setting budget priorities during state budget negotiations which lead to winners and losers. Especially during these challenging economic times, it is difficult for the Legislature to protect funding for every single government program or service.

It's clear this priority was ignored when the governor and majority party passed their budget this year, making California families and their safety the biggest losers.

The centerpiece of the budget is a new 'realignment' plan that will result in up to 52,000 California inmates being shifted from state prisons to county jails by 2013-14. Although there is a federal court order to require the state to reduce the prison population by 33,000 prisoners, the Governor's scheme will increase the transfer population by over 40%, in spite of there being other options to comply with the court order. 

Democrats who supported this plan, which took effect October 1st, claim that it will save the state money since we will be moving dangerous criminals out of prisons funded by the state and into locally funded facilities. In reality, this is dumping permanently what is now rightly state responsibilities and mandates on local government and the citizens, based on the usual hollow promises of funding. In fact, I am sure the end game is to first shift the burden then to tell local government to raise local taxes to fund realignment. There's a bill in process to do just that. 

One of the main problems with this realignment plan is that with very limited space available in county jails, tens of thousands of un-rehabilitated felons and parolees will remain virtually unsupervised in our communities prior to serving their full sentence and justice being served. Furthermore, they will face diminished to no consequences for continuing their victimization of society.

This is travesty for justice and possibly the greatest threat ever made on public safety for California families, brought about by its elected representatives. 

Fortunately, murderers, rapists and other extremely violent offenders are not eligible for transfer under this flawed realignment plan. But there are more than 500 felony crimes that will qualify, including hate crimes, involuntary manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence, felony child abuse, elder financial abuse, involuntary manslaughter and almost all drug crimes.

There are many reasons why I strongly oppose this plan.

First and foremost, it will result in hundreds of thousands of criminal acts and a mass victimization on the citizens of California.

The only thing crime victims can find comfort in is justice. Allowing criminals the reward of early release or no punishments denies even this insufficient peace of mind. 

I also oppose realignment simply because there are other alternatives. For more than 20 years as a legislator and as Chairman of the Board of Prison Terms, I have been advocating for prison reform measures that would have saved the state money and eased overcrowding.

Unfortunately, the governor and the majority have insisted on this ill-fated agenda. Similar though far less expansive realignments were tried in 1992 and 2004 and were quickly scuttled. 

The bottom line is that we all must better protect our families to the highest degree we can. This population is still dangerous, and it is irresponsible to release these felons into our communities earlier than justice dictates. Citizens must voice their opinions now before we and our families pay the price for this realignment injustice.