Release Date:  April 10, 2012
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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COUNTIES STRUGGLING TO HANDLE WAVE OF SO-CALLED
"LOW RISK" OFFENDERS

A new state policy diverting thousands of so-called “low risk” offenders to county jails and rehabilitation programs is resulting in more crime in many parts of California, according to local law enforcement officials.

Information compiled by the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation indicates that offenders, who now qualify for local jail or treatment under AB109, the state’s Public Safety Realignment law, are being arrested for new felonies, including violent crimes. The new law, which took effect last October, prevents criminals, whose most recent conviction is for one of a host of theft or drug-related felonies, from being sentenced to state prison. It requires instead that they be housed in local jails or released on probation. The law classifies these offenders as non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual—called “non, non, nons” among police and prosecutors. Many counties are reporting that they do not have adequate jail space to house those criminals whom local officials believe should be incarcerated, and they do not have the resources to adequately supervise or provide treatment to others now left in the community.

Trinity County Chief Probation Officer Terry Lee, as reported in The Trinity Journal, said “the non, non, non is not what we are seeing. There are some very serious offenders we are now supervising.”

According to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s booking records, Christian Rodriguez, a Victorville gang member who had a previous false imprisonment conviction last year, was arrested in February for false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, making terrorist threats, and participation in a criminal street gang. He reportedly believed the victim was having a relationship with his girlfriend. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department reports their county jail system has been at full capacity since December 2011, when they had to release 150 parole violators early to comply with capacity limits. Between January 1 and March 1 of 2012, 465 inmates of various commitment types were released early from San Bernardino County jails to avoid overcrowding. As reported in the San Bernardino Sun, Fontana police Sgt. Billy Green said of realignment, “It’s very discouraging and doesn’t serve as any kind of deterrent for these guys.”

In January 2012, Aaron Suggs was arrested in Sacramento for sexually assaulting a woman in her home and then robbing her. Suggs had ten previous convictions, mostly for property crimes or drugs, Capital Public Radio reported. He was released from prison in early December 2011 and placed on post-release community supervision in the county. According to Alan Seeber, Suggs did not report to the post-release community supervision program and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested at the end of the month on the warrant and for providing false information to an officer, for which he served a flash incarceration term.

Riverside County jails have released 1,100 inmates early since the first of the year due to overcrowding as a result of realignment.

Beaumont Police Chief Frank Coe said of realignment, “...when it was pushed out, it was pushed out so quickly that it didn’t give the counties time to put the infrastructure in place.” At a community meeting in Beaumont in early April, Banning Police Chief Leonard Purvis said, “People are taking more chances. Inmates are weighing their options. That’s scary for us.”

The Merced Sun-Star reported that while Jesus Sotelo was on parole in Merced County, he was arrested in Madera County over an interference with an officer from the Chowchilla Police Department. He was released the next day because Madera County officials said they didn’t have room to hold an offender from another county. A week later, Sotelo was arrested on suspicion of felony battery of a police officer.

Taft Chief of Police Ed Whiting told the Taft City Council earlier this month the shift of inmates under realignment has resulted in an increase in property crimes in the city. Whiting said it’s not that there are necessarily more criminals than before, but “that we are arresting the same people over and over again due to 109.”

In Fontana, property crime has increased 20 to 25 percent, according to Fontana Police Chief Rod Jones. “We can find no other logical explanation for the increase in crime other than realignment.”

Shafter Police Chief Greg Richardson told Eyewitness News, “Since AB 109 went into effect, we have an uptick in property crime.”

Many counties are looking to alternative sentencing to address jail overcrowding, such as home detention, but GPS monitoring ankle bracelets are not foolproof. In February, Calaveras County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Manual Travis Grow during a traffic stop. Grow, who was on post-release community supervision after being released from state prison, had a warrant out for his arrest for cutting off his electronic ankle monitor.

KTXL Fox40 reports convicted sex offender Mark Wayne Speer was arrested in Roseville in February after taking off his monitoring device eight days after being paroled from prison in December 2011.

So far about 6,000 prisoners have been shifted to supervision by Los Angeles County since realignment took effect. As reported by the Los Angeles Times in April, only 15 percent of released inmates in the county had received treatment services since then, and about a quarter of the probationers have been arrested for new crimes. County statistics indicate about 10 percent of released convicts are not showing up for meetings or are missing.

CJLF President Michael Rushford said that these reports are just the beginning. “Just six months since the rollout of the new Realignment law, it is already evident that California has become a more dangerous place for law-abiding people to live and work. I hope that the Governor and the Legislature are paying attention.”

CJLF President Michael Rushford is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.
The Paper: Rationalizing Realignment: A perspective on California’s return to alternative sentencing is available here.