Governor's Early Release Plan - An Injustice For California

Friday, October 28, 2011

As the head of the state parole board for many years, I've had the chance to witness thousands of dangerous individuals whose crimes have left scars on the lives of many innocent people. Many of them have been provided opportunities to change their ways through various rehabilitation programs. Believe me, nothing would please me more than to report to you that most have had a change of heart and have turned away from their criminal ways. In reality, however, very few make the decision to stop their criminal behavior and continue to represent a serious threat to society.

I believe it is my responsibility as an elected official to ensure the safety of innocent, law-abiding Californians by incarcerating these dangerous individuals whose criminal record has shown a pervasive, persistent pattern of victimization.

To prevent is almost always a better path than to repair. Over the years, I wish that those in power at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) would have truly established meaningful, sustained rehabilitation in custody and in the community. I quickly learned that, for CDCR leadership, rehabilitation was more in word than deed. I have long suggested changes and increased accountability to rehabilitation programs. During the first year of the Schwarzenegger administration, I even recommended adding the word rehabilitation to the Department's title in hope of increasing their resolve.

For the past decade, inmate lawsuits have been the biggest cost driver in the Department's rising costs. Two years ago I achieved the creation of a Litigation and Prevention Unit in CDCR to get control of this vast expense.

The Administration suggests that the early release and shift of inmates and parolees to local government was caused by the courts. This is not the case.  In reality, the courts simply ordered the state to come up with a plan to deal with overcrowding to improve inmate health care. I and others, have offered many alternatives including the authorization five years ago of funds for more prison and local jail space in Assembly Bill 900.  I also suggested applying the concepts of HMO medicine in the prison system. These efforts were opposed by CDCR. The Assembly Public Safety Committee then defeated my bill to do this, but that same day the Federal prison receiver embraced the idea and implemented the first steps under his own authority.

So what constitutes this optional shift? Governor Brown has decided to discontinue the practice begun under Governor Schwarzenegger of contracting with other states that have the extra space to house some of our inmates.  As a result, prison beds designed to house an average inmate population of 11,700, according to his own Department of Finance, will be discontinued.

In addition, the state will end the contracts that we have with some counties to house inmates. This means beds for an average inmate population of 5,245 will be eliminated. Keep in mind that the prisoners held in out-of-state prisons and local counties through these contracts do not count towards the federal prison population cap.  However, eliminating these arrangements now means that there will be more pressure on our correctional system.

While realignment's supporters would like you to believe that only petty thieves will be affected, the simple fact is that criminals with more serious records will instead be sent to overcrowded county jails. Many criminals will only serve a fraction of their sentences, while others will be granted early release to make room for the influx of state felons into our communities.

In essence, the governor's realignment scheme is really about lowering the sentences of thousands of criminals through the backdoor. For years, liberal Democrats have pushed for a sentencing commission that would allow a group of unelected individuals to weaken mandatory sentencing laws that are keeping Californians safe. Only strong public opposition has prevented them from doing so. With realignment, the liberals will have achieved their objective at the expense of justice and public safety.

As the problems with realignment unfold, many claim the solution is more money through higher taxes. This plan was touted as a cost savings! The problem is not money. The plan is fundamentally flawed and no amount of new tax money can ensure justice and safety.

The governor and the Legislature should reconvene, repeal AB 109 and start all over with a responsible, consensus solution that is the result of true bipartisan negotiations.