PRISON REALIGNMENT (AB 109)
UPDATE: Jails Full -- Prisoners Released Early
The prisoner realignment plan? It’s yet one more unfunded state mandate aimed to pass the responsibility and the buck to local government, when those same local entities have shown themselves to be incapable of making smart decisions.
It’s still unclear why local governments here in the Coachella Valley like Palm Springs chose to cut Public Safety budgets KNOWING that more prisoners would be sent their way as a result of Assembly Bill 109.
The result? In nearby Riverside County, jails recently reached maximum capacity and now release inmates DAILY to make room for new convicts. A bad problem made worse as counties stand to LOSE money by releasing inmates not yet done with their sentence and offer a far cheaper, and more desirable, ankle bracelet instead.
Thanks to the new state law that went into effect October 1, in Riverside County alone 735 offenders who should have gone to State Prison were sent to County jails instead – an influx beyond capacity of Riverside’s jails. Just last weekend, about 57 prisoners were released as the jails ran out of beds.
What impact could all this have on the law-abiding citizens of Riverside County and throughout the Coachella Valley? Consider the article from January 18, 2012, in the Desert Sun. This offender is at the center of an identity theft and fraud ring that had impacted over 200 people, according to local law enforcement. Yet, she’s a “non-violent offender” and given our at capacity local jails and the state’s insistence that these types of offenders MUST be held at County Jails, she could be back out in the public yet again.
Light on the Desert is cautiously optimistic about the efforts of nearby Hemet City Councilmembers Dave Brown and Larry Smith who made the case of the County’s jail capacity problem to State Legislators and the Governor’s Office. Riverside County also recently started a Task Force specifically designated to oversee the State’s Prison Realignment program and the cost – economically and socially – to our county.
Our County systems are being forced down a slippery slope. What does the future hold? In Fresno County, four inmates have filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Margaret Mims claiming that the County jails are understaffed and that prisoners lack basic protections. Is this where we’re headed?
Our government is on the brink of bankruptcy; our system is broken. Our citizens need to step and demand better of all of our elected officials at every level. Law abiding citizens should not be put at risk because of poor planning by our representatives. MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD.
Cochella Valley -- Are You Ready for Prison Realignment?
On October 1st, the State of California began the so-called “Prison Realignment” as required by AB 109. Governor Jerry Brown proposed AB 109 as a way of complying with the Supreme Court’s orders to alleviate overcrowding by reducing state prison population by approximately 33,000 inmates over the next two years. In addition, AB 109 provided a vehicle to help balance the state’s budget. Under this law, responsibility for low-level felony offenders and parole violators is transferred to the counties along with $354 million ($21 million to Riverside County).
County Sheriff, Stanley Sniff, Jr. stated at the Town Hall in Palm Desert November 28, 2011, that the $21 million designated for Riverside leaves this county dramatically under-resourced for the additional tasks.
This plan represents the most significant overhaul of the state’s prison system in three decades. Many are hopeful that dealing with this population at the local level will actually improve the system overall and even reduce recidivism. (California has a recidivism rate of 67.5%, which one of the highest rates in the nation.)
AB 109 specifically requires counties to use “evidence-based” correctional sanctions and programming that encompasses both custodial and noncustodial responses to criminal or noncompliant offender activity in order to reduce recidivism rather than simply adding jail capacity.
Sounds good, right? Help balance the state budget, comply with the Supreme Court decision, reducing recidivism, providing more accountability to taxpayers since the responsibility for low-level offenders is at the local level – what could be wrong?
The Town Hall in Palm Desert on November 29, 2011, led by Assemblyman Brian Nestande and Senator Bill Emerson was an eye opener to say the least. Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff, County Supervisor John Benoit, District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, and Probation Department Chief Crogan, along with a representative from Assemblyman Manny Perez’ office and some others offered information on the pluses and minuses of the prison realignment plan.
Here are some the highlights:
-- Crime rate in California has been declining but some fear that the realignment plan may cause the rates to go up because prison stays in local communities will be shorter and fewer offenders will actually get sentenced to prison vs. get supervision in the community or public service
-- County jails are not designed for long term imprisonment – it is not clear what issues this will cause when the county jail system must house inmates for 5 or 10 years; the original pitch was that these offenders would have sentences of 3 years or less -- Riverside already has some inmates with sentences of over 10 years as a result of realignment; county supports effort to get state to amend law such that any prisoners with long (over 10 years) sentences would be the state’s responsibility
-- The state is providing funding of $21 million to Riverside to fund the program through June 30, 2012; this is somewhere between 20-25% of what the state spends for these offenders (prison and parole program)
-- The state has indicated that they will try to get more money by putting it up to the voters on the November 2012 ballot; most of the panel indicated that there is little chance that a measure to increase taxes will actually pass
-- Even if the voters pass a measure to increase taxes, there is NO funding (even at 20 cents on the dollar) for July through November of 2012 – the panel did not have any proposed solutions to fill this funding gap let along deal with the fact that the money that is coming to the county ($21 million) between now and June most likely will not cover the expenses
-- County has limited, if any, programs set up as alternatives to imprisonment – setting up new programs requires money and personnel, both of which are mostly nonexistent
-- Riverside currently has 3900 prison “beds;” at the current rate of diverting prisoners to the counties, Riverside will be at capacity by the end of December (this December – 2011 – after only 3 months of the program); the Desert Sun reports that this could cost $35 million to outsource these prisoners – even if this is the cost for an entire year, it is more than the $21 million that the state is giving Riverside for the program
-- Members of the panel indicated that the county will have to be “creative”; this most likely will include early releases, shorter sentences, and even no sentence
-- Riverside estimates that there will be 1650 more parolees to monitor which will increase the probation officer caseloads by about 15%
-- Most likely the county will now be the target of more lawsuits as the ACLU and others contenting that the county jails are overcrowded, not providing adequate facilities/programs for long term imprisonment, etc. – that same types of issues that the state has faced and has led to AB 109
Bottom line, it seems that the very problems the state has had with the prison system are now just being shifted, in part, to the counties but without the funding.
As a taxpayer and member of this community, shouldn’t we be asking some questions about who is minding the store? What planning has been done for AB 109? If none or minimal, then why hasn’t the planning been done and who is responsible? How can communities like Palm Springs justify cutting police staff this year? Did they not know this was coming and, if not, why not? Isn’t public safety a top priority? Where is the money going to come from? Why haven’t our public servants (state, county, and city) and so-called news outlets been bringing attention to this potential train wreck (or as Paul Zellerbach said, “perfect storm”)?
Light on the Desert notes:
-- It appeared that there were no city council members or majors from any of our Coachella Valley cities
-- Desert Sun said there were 40 people – by our count that must have included the panel (9) and the media (at least 4). We would have guessed that there were maybe only 20 people – pretty pathetic but then again, why wasn’t there more notice?
-- One of the panelists after the Townhall meeting commented that they have to be careful on some of these topics not to “scare” the public – do we need to be sheltered from the Truth? Or is this just that our public officials don’t want to expose what is/isn’t happening and take the heat from their constituencies?
What are the next steps? We don’t know but we will keep you posted.