A paper released today by the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation warns that the Governor’s “Public Safety Realignment” law, which took effect in October, “guarantees that an increasing number of law-abiding Californians will be robbed, assaulted, injured or murdered.”
The paper, Rationalizing Realignment, traces California’s experience with alternative sentencing beginning with the 1965 Probation Subsidy Act, signed into law by the current Governor’s father, Pat Brown. The Act was supported by social scientists who pointed to research showing that low level felons could benefit from shorter sentences in local jails and rehabilitation programs rather than state prison, with little or no risk to public safety.
“As a means for reducing the number of criminals going to prison, the Act was a success,” according to CJLF President Michael Rushford. “But the crime rate rose dramatically, including violent crime,” he wrote.
According to Rushford, by 1980 the public was demanding changes in sentencing policies as a result of the high crime rates and acknowledgment by some criminologists that the risk-assessment and rehabilitation claims did not meet expectations.
“The Governor’s Realignment program essentially resurrects the failed probation subsidy experiment tried 47 years ago, which most people living in the real world recognized as a failure. Tens of thousands of Californians paid a very high price for the state’s willingness to risk public safety in order to reduce the state prison population,” said Rushford.
The paper notes that the “evidence-based” practices, which have been used in California for over 15 years to assess the risk that felons will commit violent crimes, have failed to protect the public. The Foundation cites a June 2010 special report by the California Office of the Inspector General which found that the state had erroneously assessed sex offender John Gardner as low risk and released him on parole with passive GPS monitoring. While on parole, Gardner kidnapped, raped and murdered 14-year-old Amber Dubois. Later, after Gardner was discharged from parole, but still on GPS monitoring, he assaulted and attempted to rape 23-year-old Candice Moncayo, and kidnapped, raped and murdered 17-year-old Chelsea King.
In April 2010, Gardner plead guilty to all three crimes in order to avoid a possible death sentence.
Since the Realignment law went into effect, law enforcement agencies across California are reporting that local jails are filling up and that offenders who should be incarcerated are being released on probation.
The Foundation asserts that, “To reduce excessive and unsustainable state spending, the Governor and the Legislature have chosen to place thousands of known criminals, previously eligible for prison, in counties which have neither the funding or capacity to properly handle them. When private individuals, institutions or businesses have made decisions risking the safety of people, or even animals, they have been prosecuted, punished or sued. Who will Californians hold responsible for the carnage caused by Realignment?”