For over a year, police chiefs and sheriffs across California have been reporting increased crime caused by repeat felons loose on the streets because of the Governor’s Realignment law. Last month, Legislators were given the opportunity to correct the flaws in the law that have turned many of their constituents into victims.
In April, a package of over a dozen Realignment reform bills, most authored by Republicans, were introduced in the state Assembly and Senate. Many of these were modest proposals to deal with obvious problems, such as sex offenders who violate probation and can no longer be located or potential sexually violent predators who are released from prison without being evaluated for dangerousness. In addition to law enforcement organizations testifying in support of these bills, Californians who have lost loved ones or who have been severely victimized themselves by Realignment criminals, came forward to urge a yes vote.
For the most part, the bills were killed at their first committee hearings by party-line votes. Some were made two-year bills, which gives the author a year to amend it enough to satisfy the majority. One measure, authored by Democrat Senator Ted Lieu, making it a felony with a prison sentence for sex offenders who cut off a GPS tracking device, took amendments in order to survive which reduce the offense to a probation violation and the penalty from prison to county jail.
But, apparently responding to the growing public outcry, the Governor has shown some interest in making a minor revision of the law. As reported earlier this week, the Governor’s revised budget includes some additional funds for counties which are now housing thousands of felons who, prior to Realignment, would have been eligible for state prison. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Governor has also proposed that counties, which are forced under Realignment to house repeat felons long terms in local jails, may transfer felons who have already served three years of their sentence, to state prison in exchange for prison inmates who have nearly completed their sentences.
“On its face, this looks like a good idea,” said Michael Rushford, a Realignment opponent and President of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “But in practice, what’s to stop the state from agreeing to take one county jail inmate serving a ten year sentence if the county will accept five prison inmates with two years left in return? It’s a win-win for the Governor, he reduces short-term incarceration costs and gets rid of four more inmates to satisfy the courts,” he added.
“It seems clear that the majority leadership in the Legislature and the Governor are not convinced that any significant reform of the Realignment law is necessary,” said Rushford.