As he signed AB 109 into law last year, California Governor Jerry Brown said, "For too long, the state’s prison system has been a revolving door for lower-level offenders and parole violators who are released within months—often before they are even transferred out of a reception center. Cycling these offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation, and impedes local law enforcement supervision." In fact, this statement is now an accurate description of the situation counties across the state find themselves in.
The Governor’s so called "Public Safety Realignment" law, which took effect last October, has created a revolving door in county jails for criminals, many of whom have extensive records which include serious crimes. The new law has forced local jails to release thousands of criminals early due to overcrowded conditions caused by the influx of inmates who previously would have been serving sentences in state prison or on state supervised parole. Many counties do not have the funds to implement rehabilitation programs or properly supervise criminals because the state has only provided temporary funding based on its own estimates, which many counties are reporting were too low.
On July 3, the Orange County Register reported that the Sheriff’s Department had received twice as many inmates as expected in the jails just four months into Realignment. Probation officials said they have so far seen 58 percent more probationers than expected.
The Monterey County Herald reported on June 16 that the overcrowding in the county’s jail has left little space for classrooms, making it difficult for the county to provide re-entry programs.
A June 28 story in the Redding Record Searchlight reports that according to the Shasta County grand jury, "Most arrestees are being released almost immediately from custody resulting in a revolving door for repeat offenders."
The Napa Valley Register reported on June 24 that the Napa County grand jury characterized Realignment as a "get out of jail free card."
A June 26 story in the Humboldt County Times-Standard quoted interim Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham, who said he’s seen the jail release felons because there is no room to house them. "Between the first and the 19th of this month, we had three situations where we had three females taken to jail on drug felonies and they had to be released," Harpham said. "The jail staff told our officers that they had to do it because of realignment and the jail overcrowding." Harpham said that when offenders are booked and quickly released, there is no deterrent to committing crime. He also said the release of these lower-level offenders has led to a significant increase in petty crime. "We’re going into uncharted territory," Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said about measures being taken to reduce the jail population. He added that the county’s jail has too many maximum-security male inmates who have to be in a cell by themselves.
On June 19, the North County Times reported that San Diego County officials were releasing about 300 low-level offenders from jail early to ease overcrowding initiated by Realignment.
On July 10, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that since Realignment took effect, one criminal left in San Diego County under the new law had been arrested on murder charges and five others on attempted murder charges. "I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that I don’t think this was a well-thought-out plan," said San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Crime statistics analyzed by the San Diego Association of Governments showed a 6 percent increase in property crimes in the three months after Realignment took effect, compared to the same three-month period in the previous year.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times on July 10, Los Angeles County’s early release policy calls for nonviolent offenders to serve 20 percent of their jail terms. Assistant Sheriff Cecil W. Rhambo Jr. said violent offenders serve 75 percent of their jail sentences. A preliminary report from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office found that during the first six months of 2012, overall incidents of violent crimes increased 4.66 percent, and serious property crimes reported increased by 6.33 percent, compared to the same time last year.
The Fallbrook Village News reported on June 21 that, according to detective Jeff Lauhon, "The people we arrest used to stay in custody a lot longer. People used to get substantial jail time for drug offenses, and couldn’t commit crime. Now, since there is 'no room at the inn,' the petty thieves just run amuck in the street and look for the easy targets," he said. "Half my cases are people getting purses and wallets stolen out of their unlocked vehicles. It’s very preventable, and very frustrating," he added.
A June 25 story in the Daily Democrat reported that, according to Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, while post-release community supervision is reserved for inmates whose most recent prison sentence was for a non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offense, "that doesn’t mean they don’t have some history from convictions from years ago that weren’t in those categories."
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported July 9 that an inmate who had escaped from a medium-security detention center in Santa Cruz County would "probably not" have been placed there without the stress on the maximum-security county jail caused by Realignment, Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Carney said. "Back in the old days, they would have been able to manage a population at County Jail and not have to use the less secure Rountree facility as an extra place to put people," he said. The inmate, Richard Norman Sasse, does not qualify as a non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offender and was awaiting sentencing for serious felonies.
The Orange County Register reported June 21 that regarding overcrowded county jails, "We’re trying to guess where we’re going to hit the break point," according to Assistant Sheriff Mike James. The department cannot use many of the empty beds in the jails because of inmates who are isolated for security and protective reasons.
A June 6 story in the Auburn Journal quoted Capt. George Malim, commander of the Placer County Jail, as saying that being classified as a "non,"as in a non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual offender, doesn’t mean an inmate is a "non-sophisticated" criminal. "They don’t qualify for minimum security housing or inmate work crews and many don’t qualify for medium security dormitory space," he said. "As a result, the numbers of prisoners taking up cell bed space has increased." "The trend is clear," he added. "Realignment is impacting our limited cell space used to house the most sophisticated and dangerous offenders."
San Bernardino County’s Probation Department public information officer, Chris Condon, said about half of the nearly 3,000 post-release community supervision offenders under the county’s supervision are sex offenders, as reported in the Crestline Courier-News on June 28.
A June 23 story in the Whittier Daily News quoted Capt. Patrick Maxwell of Los Angeles County’s Norwalk station as saying "...a lot of people are coming back into our communities that should be in jail. It has an effect on the property crimes." "We are concerned with the increase in property crimes like burglary and thefts," said Whittier’s police chief, Jeff Piper.
Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti said property crime in Redding was up 53 percent in the first four months of the year, the Redding Record Searchlight reported on June 24.
Some counties, including Los Angeles, are now looking to other counties to house thousands of criminals that they don’t have room for. "The rehabilitation and local supervision goals promoted by Realignment supporters are not realistic and are actually in conflict with the real goal of this policy, which is to save the state money by shifting responsibility for most criminals to counties," said Michelle Herson, a public policy researcher with the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.