Governor Brown's August 27 announcement asking for Legislative approval of his plan to shift the nearly 10,000 prison inmates ordered released from state prisons to alternative confinement before the end of the year addresses the immediate concern of releasing additional hardened criminals into the streets. But this stop-gap measure does nothing about the thousands of crimes being committed by criminals no longer eligible for state prison under his Realignment law. Under the law, which took effect in October 2011, criminals convicted of any of 500 so-called non-serious felonies can only be sentenced to time in a county jail, released on county probation (PRCS), or assigned to a local rehabilitation program.
In a July 25 article, Brad Branan of the Sacramento Bee reported that county jails are so overcrowded now that they are forced to release dozens of inmates early every day. The story reports that, over the first nine months of 2012, county jails released 120,000 inmates due to capacity limits, and sheriffs in central valley counties note that Governor Brown's prison Realignment program is a contributing factor to the state's escalating crime rates.
A report by the California Attorney General's Office released on July 26 showed a small uptick in all categories of violent crime and significant increases in property crimes. For example burglary and larceny rates climbed to five-year highs, and auto thefts climbed to a four-year high. These increases are not surprising considering that habitual felons who burglarize businesses and steal cars and credit cards, drug dealers, wife beaters, and identity thieves cannot be sent to state prison under Realignment.
News stories compiled over the past year by the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation have documented the fact that many of the criminals that Realignment classifies as "low risk" are committing what most Californians would consider serious crimes.
In the early evening of July 10, Shannon DaSilva led Fairfield police on a high speed chase through a residential neighborhood that ended when she crashed her car into a home. Catherine Bowen of the Vacaville Reporter noted that DaSilva was free on Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS) under Realignment and was wanted on a felony warrant when officers spotted her driving an SUV. When the officers attempted to pull the vehicle over, DaSilva ran a stop sign and sped off. She and her two passengers suffered minor injuries from the crash and were taken into custody after being cleared by medical personnel. If convicted of evading a police officer and violation of PRCS, the most DaSilva can receive under Realignment is a short sentence in county jail and/or release on PRCS.
On July 9, KHSL TV reported that Paradise Police and the Tehama County Sheriffs had separately arrested two men for possession of large quantities of methamphetamine, ecstasy pills, ammunition, and a stun gun. Both 32-year-old Christopher Fackrell of Red Bluff and 38-year-old George Rankin of Paradise were free on PRCS under Realignment when they were arrested. Both are charged with possession of controlled substances for sale, and other felonies, none of which are classified as serious crimes under Realignment. Because of this, neither drug dealer can be sentenced to state prison if convicted, and both will serve short terms in county jail and be released again on PRCS.
On July 20, San Bernardino police received a 911 call reporting an armed robbery in the City Hall parking lot. Responding officers located 28-year-old Juan Carlos Zambrano hiding in a bathroom at an adjacent mall. Zambrano was out on PRCS after a conviction for attempted copper theft last March and was arrested again in June for violating his probation. Fortunately, armed robbery is considered a serious crime under Realignment, so if Zambrano is convicted, he can be sentenced to prison. On July 18, police in Murrieta responded to a call made by a concerned citizen about a suspicious vehicle believed to be casing closed businesses. When police responded, Jason Norton led officers on a chase through city streets before eventually leaving the car and attempting to flee on foot. Norton, a criminal free on PRCS, was placed under arrest after 2.4 ounces of methamphetamine and a lock picking set were found in the vehicle.
On August 12, police in Santa Cruz, arrested Julio Nunez for his role in a drive-by shooting that left an innocent 15-year-old boy seriously wounded. A story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that Nunez was free on PRCS after serving a two-year prison sentence on a guilty plea for felony methamphetamine possession, illegal firearm possession, and a misdemeanor gang participation charge.
On August 15, police in Santa Ana identified a suspect in a sexual assault and attempted sexual assault case stemming from two separate home invasions earlier this year. A Daily Pilot story reported that police believe that the suspect, 46-year-old Thomas Walker, sexually assaulted one woman while threatening her with a knife, and attempted to assault another woman less than a month later. Walker had been released under PRCS at the time of the attacks.
A two-month long homicide investigation ended on Monday, August 26 after Ventura police identified Michael Bresnak as the suspect in a felony murder from 2012. Bresnak, who was already in custody for violating the conditions of his PRCS, is scheduled to appear in court for the murder next month. The victim, Jeffey Korber, was found stuffed inside a freezer in a public storage unit.
"These crimes were committed by habitual felons considered ‘low risk' for violence under the Governor's Realignment law. At his press conference, the Governor promised to work with legislators from both parties and law enforcement leaders to address long-term public safety issues but Realignment was not mentioned," said Foundation President Michael Rushford. "Last April, law enforcement leaders and Republicans presented over a dozen bills to reform Realignment and protect the public. None of those bills was supported by the Governor and none passed. The time has come for this Governor to back up his rhetoric and accept some major reforms on Realignment before he asks the voters to re-elect him next year," he added.