A Dangerous 'Realignment' Proposal

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Every Californian wants the best things in life, but all the opportunities that our state offers are meaningless if we and our families are not safe.  Excellent schools and good jobs cannot exist if criminals can escape the consequences of their crimes and are allowed to continue victimizing society.

I believe government's first responsibility is to ensure safety and justice for the public.  Unfortunately, the Brown administration is pushing a hastily concocted public safety 'realignment' proposal that would compromise our safety, up-end sentencing, parole laws and policies, and turn the criminal justice system upside down as a way to balance the budget.  While they claim this plan will not jeopardize public safety and would actually increase "local control," it is in reality a scheme to release prisoners early, keep repeating offenders in our communities and punt the state's budget problems to our counties.

The thousand-pages-long proposal was only available to legislative staff last Thursday. There has not been, nor will there be, sufficient opportunity for law enforcement, lawmakers and the citizens of California to analyze or comment on this far reaching legislation before it is voted on in the Senate and Assembly.

As the Vice Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I had the responsibility to read the Governor's proposal line-by-line, and was deeply troubled by what I learned.  For example, his proposal would shift about 38,000 offenders in the first year (16,000 from prison and 22,000 from parole) on to local public safety officials and local courts.  This figure would grow to about 68,000 (40,000 from prison and 28,000 from parole) by the year 2014. Understand these are not just low level offenders and they are not rehabilitated.

The Governor gives no guarantee that law enforcement will receive ongoing or additional resources they need to handle this vast influx of criminals into our communities.  And, the notion that extending or increasing taxes for five years will sustain these obligations is folly.  By shifting the immense burden of housing un-rehabilitated offenders and felons such as child and spouse abusers to local jails, the state is inviting higher crime rates.  Local sheriffs are already dealing with their own jail and inmate housing problems. 

The Governor also proposes to resurrect a dangerous policy idea that was repealed by the Legislature last year because of public outrage.  That proposal is to change the sentences of many felons and leave more parolees unsupervised in our communities. The state would give significantly more inmates "good-time" credits (up to 50 percent) which really have never been 'earned,' thereby releasing them into our communities before justice has been served.

It is expected that once fully implemented this proposal will result in about 40,000 felons acquiring the right to vote, because under the elections code, which this proposal would not amend, convicted felons not housed in state prison have the right to vote. 

So now it would be "do the crime, do less time". This proposal even waters down the 'Three Strikes Law' and 'Chelsea's Law.' 

I urge Governor Brown and my Democrat colleagues to reject this deeply flawed proposal, based on its long-term impact on our local communities. I urge you to please say 'no.'

The administration's proposal is high-risk, not only because it will increase victimization but also because it will put an impossible burden on local law enforcement agencies and our local courts that absolutely cannot supervise, manage, rehabilitate nor sanction this vast population of criminals. 

My many years as chairman of the California Board of Prison Terms taught me one thing particularly well - whenever considering changes in sentencing or parole policies be very cautious and be certain of the long term consequences. 

Undoubtedly, our budget problems require tough choices, but they should not cause Californians to live in fear or to become victims.  We can and we must find savings in other areas of government that are not as critical to public safety.

Based on my experience in the criminal justice system and as one of the founders of the crime victim's movement I have offered many other solutions, such as ways to cut inmate health care costs and litigation costs, implement safe and sane parole policies that incorporate true rehabilitation incentives, opportunities and consequences for rejecting these alternatives to continue criminal behavior.This ill-conceived, hastily advanced 'realignment' proposal must be rejected or our families and our communities will surely pay the price.