WHILE COUNTIES GET SUED
In April 2011 Governor Jerry Brown signed the most sweeping change in sentencing policy in the history of California. The measure, AB109, was called Public Safety Realignment, and was touted as a way for the state to save millions in state corrections costs, help rehabilitate "low-level" offenders while assuring that the public remained protected from the most dangerous criminals. At that time, some law enforcement leaders, legislators and victims advocates warned that releasing thousands of repeat felons from prison into communities and preventing most criminals committing new felonies from going to prison would result in increased crime, including violent crime. They warned that the money saved by the state would be spent many times over by county taxpayers. Last June these warnings were characterized by former California Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg as ‘fear-mongering voices,’ while she touted the reduction of state prison inmates resulting from the Realignment law she and her fellow Democrats in the legislature had supported.
Since the October 2011 implementation of this law, evidence has been mounting that the warnings about Realignment were true and that Ms. Goldberg, the Governor, and other apologists were wrong.
Early in 2012, one of the ‘fear-mongering voices,’ the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation began tracking reports on crime committed by criminals rated "low-level" by the state and left in communities on probation under Realignment. Reports by police and sheriffs departments, indicating that criminals on the streets due to the new law were committing an increasing number of murders, sex crimes, robberies, beatings, burglaries and drug offenses, were discounted by criminologists and corrections officials who termed these incidents "anecdotal" and far from proof that crime was actually rising due to the law.
In late January, the FBI released Preliminary National Crime Data showing that after a fifteen year decline in crime the rates of all major felonies, including violent felonies, were up sharply in California. Predictably, some apologists pointed to California communities where crime remained low, ignoring the statewide impact and cities such as Stockton, Fresno, Oakland, and San Francisco which are suffering near record numbers of homicides and property crimes.
The influx of repeat felons, quickly discharged from supervision on state parole and no longer eligible for prison for convictions of most new felonies, has filled many county jails beyond capacity, leaving criminals free on probation, house arrest, or monitored with a GPS ankle bracelet. In recent weeks, numerous news stories have reported that criminals, including sex offenders, are removing their GPS monitors with little or no consequences. There is no room at the jail, and, under Realignment, they cannot be returned to prison.
Here are more of those pesky anecdotes:
On December 25, 2012, three-time convicted felon Larry Darnell Bishop was arrested by Oakland police for shooting a rival gang member, wounding his target and killing an innocent bystander. Bishop had been sentenced in January 2012 to two years in prison for a July 2011 assault with a deadly weapon. (Pasadena Star-News, January 4). Because this is considered a low level crime under Realignment, Bishop received a jail sentence. Due to jail overcrowding, Bishop was released on May 26, 2012 after serving only four months of his sentence. (Daily Bulletin, March 2).
Sex offender Jerome DeAvila was arrested February 26, 2013 for raping, robbing, and murdering his 76-year-old grandmother in Stockton. Her body was found dumped in a wheelbarrow in her backyard. DeAvila has been in and out of jail about a dozen times in the last twelve months for parole violations. His most recent release was on February 20, 2013 after being arrested for failing to register as a sex offender. Despite a 30 day jail sentence, he was released one day after pleading guilty, due to a court cap which mandates releases when jails reach their population capacity. San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dave Konecny reported that DeAvila was released under AB109. (The Stockton Record, March 1). According to records from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, DeAvila was released within 24 hours of being arrested in almost all of his nearly dozen arrests in the past nine months. (The Record Searchlight, March 17).
Gang member and registered sex offender Willie Murphy was arrested Saturday March 16, after a two-month armed robbery spree in Fresno. Murphy robbed six different businesses while acting like a regular customer. He would reveal a gun upon approaching the register and rob the location. (KMPH Fox 26, March 18). His most recent felony for attacking a corrections officer is considered a low level crime under Realignment, which prevented a prison sentence, and left him free on probation. (ABC30 Action News, March 16).
As the state prison population declines and more hardened criminals are now serving terms in county jails, the same inmate’s rights lawyers that had sued the state due to overcrowded prisons are now suing the counties for overcrowded jails. A March 19 Associated Press story reports that Riverside County has become the most recent lawsuit target. Fresno, Monterey and Alameda Counties have already been sued. County jails, which were designed to house small-time offenders for a year or less, are now receiving hardened repeat felons for sentences of up to 18 years. The lawsuits target services such as medical care, recreational facilities, vocational and treatment programs that, unlike state prisons, local jails are not equipped to provide. "It was a masterful stroke by Governor Brown to shift all the state’s prison problems to county jails," said Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller.
"After decades of failure to spend the money necessary to maintain California’s prison system, the leaders in our Legislature and our Governor decided to sacrifice the safety of the people they represent for other spending priorities such as high speed rail and tunnels to move water," said Foundation President Michael Rushford. "The victims of Realignment are certainly not unintended consequences. The Governor and the Legislature were warned that this would happen and, like spoiled children, they ignored those warnings," he added.