Since California Governor Jerry Brown’s public safety realignment plan took effect last October, counties are experiencing an increase in criminal activity as offenders cycle in and out of overcrowded jails or commit new crimes while on probation. Under the new law, offenders classified as non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual are sentenced to county jail or rehabilitation programs, and “low risk” criminals released from prison are now supervised by county probation officers. The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has been compiling news and police reports on the impact of this new policy on California counties.
“Some of the people who are on this program are absolutely dangerous career criminals,” said LAPD Sgt. Jeff Nuttall. This month, the Los Angeles Police Department found a sword, meth, cocaine, and marijuana in the home of Jorge Sandoval. Sandoval had previously served a prison term for kidnapping and domestic assault, but is defined as low risk because his last offense was drug-related. Sgt. Nuttall said it was the second time Sandoval had been arrested for a drug offense in the last few weeks.
The same day, at the residence of Byrone London, who had recently served a prison sentence for obstructing and resisting arrest, officers found a safe full of guns and rifles. The LAPD said London had previous bookings for attempted murder, willful cruelty to a child, domestic violence, burglary, and hit-and-run.
In Los Angeles County, data compiled by Robert Stickney, Probation’s Director of Executive Support, indicates as many as 6 percent of the estimated 6,000 offenders placed on post release community supervision (PRCS) in the county have never reported to their probation officer. According to Stickney, “The rate is higher than the state’s traditional initial parole absconder rate of 2 percent.” LAPD Police Officer Misty Goodnight, a member of Nuttall’s team, gave the example of one person on PRCS who had 31 felony bookings on his record, but gave a bad address so he hasn’t been located.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, preliminary reported crime data shows that as of the end of March, reported overall incidents of violent crimes have increased 0.82 percent, and serious property crimes reported have increased 6.09 percent countywide, compared to the same time last year.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey says that there is also an increase in crime at his county’s jail. “This is one of the unintended consequences of AB109. Since the county jail has turned into the county prison with a much rougher demographic, we are seeing assaults, gang activity, smuggling, etc. that are normally reserved for the state prisons.” Many of those released before their trial, because jails are too full, are committing repeat crimes. Ramsey said, “Jail personnel are being tasked with the Solomon-like daily decision of who to release either before they are tried or before their term is up, because there is simply no room.” He says, “This daily release decision is based upon their best estimate of who will be the least threat to public safety.” On April 3, habitual felon Joseph Stephens was arrested for a high-speed evasion in a stolen car. Stephens led officers on a high-speed chase before crashing head-on into a Chico police car. He had been released on his own recognizance just five days before for an earlier high-speed chase because the Butte County jail was full.
Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa said property crimes are increasing as criminals are becoming more aware that “the state prison accountability for committing these crimes is gone.” He said the recent increase in break-ins is due to street gangs having figured out that now, home break-ins are no longer punishable by a stay in state prison. De Pompa pointed to a case in La Crescenta, where two criminals sentenced for felony burglary charges served only two weeks in county jail. De Palma said what realignment “really means is commuting sentences and putting criminals back on the streets.”
Last month in Santa Cruz County, Jack Smith was arrested for transportation and possession for sales of methamphetamine, cocaine, Morphine, Hydrocodone, and Norco, and for committing a felony while out on bail. Smith’s pending case from several months ago was for possession and sales of methamphetamine, cocaine, and other substances.
In Solano County, David Curtis Faulkenberry was arrested twice in one month for driving a stolen car and becoming involved in a high-speed pursuit attempting to flee from law enforcement officers.
Some county jail sentences, in contrast, are exceeding expectations. In Kern County, Roger Baxter (who has four prior drug dealing convictions) was out on bond and expected to get a nine-year sentence when he was arrested for selling drugs near a high school. According to police, he was again bonded out, and then never showed up to court. “The more people we get that are sentenced to these longer periods of time, the more difficult the population management will be,” said Kern County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Kevin Zimmermann. According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, it would cost taxpayers more than $327,000 to house Baxter for 13 years. But due to overcrowding, Baxter will serve only a fraction of his sentence.
In Sacramento County, two men were ordered to serve 13 to 18 years in county jail, followed by five years of mandatory post-release supervision, for transporting 35 kilos of cocaine up Interstate 5. Superior Court Judge Lawrence G. Brown said he had “no discretion” under the law but to sentence the men to county jail instead of state prison. One of the men’s lawyers said given the length of the sentence, it probably would be better for his client to serve his sentence in state prison instead.
“While we are hearing ‘happy talk’ from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation about the cost savings to the state due to realignment, the people in local law enforcement who have to deal with thousands of felons (no longer eligible for prison) are telling a different story,” said CJLF President Michael Rushford.