Realignment is a Dangerous Mess

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Last week, Capitol Weekly sponsored a panel discussion on the governor's public safety realignment.  The more discussion and scrutiny that can be focused on this ill-conceived policy the better. And, for the sake of every Californian, I hope that the close attention given to the real consequences of this dangerous plan will hasten its early repeal and a concerted effort to design a new justice and public safety based plan.

As a public official, I believe it is my responsibility to advocate for the best policies for the people of California. As Vice Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I know firsthand that there are always tough choices when it comes to making budget decisions during state budget negotiations, which are often the result of bipartisan compromise. 

In my view, Californians shouldn't have to live in fear in their own homes and communities as they are today because the state is facing budget problems. 

When it comes to the Public Safety Realignment passed with Assembly Bill 109, I refuse to be a party to a reckless proposal that may lead to victimization of hundreds of thousands of our families and neighbors.

Those who supported this inmate release plan, which took effect October 1st, claim that it will save the state money since we will be moving non-dangerous criminals out of prisons funded by the state and into locally funded facilities. In reality, realignment is permanently dumping un-rehabilitated inmates and parolees that are now rightly state responsibilities and mandates into our communities, based on the hollow promises of stable funding. In my opinion, realignment is really about first shifting the burden to local governments, then forcing local governments to raise taxes to fund the release of thousands of serious criminals. There's a bill in process to do just that.

As was emphasized during last week's panel by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, 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.  They will face diminished to no consequences for continuing their victimization of society.

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.

During the years that I served as the head of the State Parole Board, I had the chance to witness tens of thousands of dangerous individuals whose crimes have left scars in the lives of many innocent people. Many of them were given the opportunity to change their ways through various rehabilitation programs. Believe me, I would be happy to report that many if not most have had a change of heart and have changed their ways.  But in reality, very few make the decision to change and to stop being a threat to those around them.

In pushing his dangerous realignment scheme, perhaps the governor is fulfilling what he wanted to do when he was first elected to office 36 years ago.  Back then, he signed the Determinate Sentence Law to show leniency to thousands of criminals under the misguided notion that they are somehow victims of societal problems beyond their control. Ironically enough, an attitude like this does not serve those who have broken the law. It is not by making excuses for them that people will summon the courage to change a harmful behavioral pattern. As a society, it does not serve us well to justify and condone deviant behavior as this realignment aims to do.

The realignment plan is dangerous for our public safety.  The only way to improve it is to repeal it and start all over. The elements of a new plan should include ensuring justice for victims, distinguishing those who remain a danger and those who do not, guaranteeing accountability from those who continue to victimize; providing sufficient jail and prison space consistent with the decision of the court, to afford a 'phase-in' rather than a 'dump' of inmates/parolees shifts commensurate with increased and improved rehabilitation opportunities in the community.