What the Brown Administration is Not Telling You about Prison Realignment (AB 109)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Early Release?

Assertions that prison realignment is “not an early release program” are deceptive.

Realignment changed penalties and the level of parole supervision for most felons convicted after November 1, 2011. It shifted the responsibility for tens of thousands of felons to counties where jail space is already filled to capacity, and changed the definition of who qualifies for community service programs. REALIGNMENT AUTHORIZES THE EARLY RELEASE OF THESE FELONS.

Convicted felons now sentenced to county supervision instead of state prisons include:

  • Career drug dealers
  • Commercial burglars
  • Habitual auto and I.D. thieves
  • Criminals with long criminal histories including felonies involving assault and firearms

A County Sentence is NOT the same as a State Prison Sentence

Under Penal Code, Section 17.5, a felon sentenced to jail rather than prison may be released early subject to day reporting, electronic monitoring or any number of non-custodial treatment programs.

Realignment also allows judges to split the sentence of felons so that part of their term may be spent in county jail and part subject to county probation (Section 1170 (h)(5)). When county jails are full, where will the felons go?

Under realignment, parole periods have been slashed from three years to one year. Most parolees will be supervised by county probation instead of the state parole authority. Now, each of the 58 counties must create their own parole system. This policy makes as much sense as requiring 58 counties to establish their own Department of Motor Vehicles.

Starting July 1, most parole revocation proceedings will be conducted before a judge in county superior court where the maximum penalty will be 90 days in jail instead of 365 days in prison (pre-realignment). Due to overcrowding of county jails, some counties have not incarcerated parole violators at all. Some criminals who have averted parole revocation have committed horrific crimes e.g. Jerome DeAvila of Stockton charged with robbing, raping and murdering his grandmother.

The California Board of Parole Hearings is better equipped than the already overwhelmed superior courts to conduct revocation proceedings. State parole officers have more training in tracking and dealing with habitual and dangerous offenders, especially those who cross county lines. This ability cannot be replicated by each of the 58 counties.

The U.S. Supreme Court DID NOT Order Realignment

When realigned felons commit new crimes and citizens are victimized, the Administration blames realignment on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. This is a pretext. The U.S. Supreme Court directed the state to fix health care services and reduce prison overcrowding.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court did not order the state to reduce sentences.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court did not order the state to shift responsibility for habitual felons to counties.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a state plan which included already funded plans to add 16,000 new cells at existing prisons. These plans and projects to convert unused juvenile facilities for adult use have been largely abandoned by the Brown Administration. The Governor signed legislation to reverse bond authorization for new prison facilities – preferring to dump the problem on counties.

Passing the Buck to Counties; It’s Your Problem Now

Californians are not benefitting under realignment. Not only is crime up but so are taxes under the Governor’s realignment plan.

Lawsuits which are costing the state billions of dollars now will begin to be filed against counties. Counties do not have the resources or the facilities to handle the multitude of services ordered by the courts to accommodate long-term inmates. The counties of Fresno and Riverside, for example, are currently facing lawsuits from inmates for not providing adequate services. Other counties will soon face similar costly lawsuits.

Governor Brown justifies realignment based upon his belief that crime is a local problem.

As the Governor explained to the Sacramento Bee: “I can tell you this: some counties do better than other counties, and the challenge here is that locking people up at state expense is a free good when people have a problem with criminal activity, and now we’re saying, ‘No, you have to handle criminal activity where you are.’”