The massive shift in responsibility for thousands of convicted felons created two years ago, when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB109, the so-called Public Safety Realignment, has cost many law-abiding Californians their property, their safety, and sometimes their lives. While the Legislature and the Governor did not create a means for evaluating the public safety impact of the 425-page law when they adopted it, the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has been monitoring and reporting on crimes committed by felons left on the streets under Realignment since it took effect in October 2011.
Realignment has removed many criminals, with prior convictions of very serious crimes, from intense supervision on state parole after release from prison. If a criminal’s most recent offense is a property felony, such as auto or identity theft, or an other crime now considered “non-serious,” such as drug dealing or assault, he is placed on what Realignment calls Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS), which is actually light or non-existing supervision on county probation. What’s the difference? Parole officers have statewide jurisdiction to track and arrest criminals, are always armed, and spend all of their time supervising hardened felons. Until Realignment, probation was local law enforcement’s way to keep track of offenders convicted of minor crimes, such as tagging, drunk driving, vandalism, or petty theft. Probation officers are usually unarmed and their jurisdiction ends at the county line. Prior to Realignment, an ex-convict arrested for violating his parole could be returned to prison for one year. Today, if a parolee is arrested for violating the conditions of his parole he cannot be returned to prison and often serves no time in county jail. If a parolee or a habitual criminal on PRCS is convicted of any of the hundreds of so-called non-serious felonies, such as assault on a police officer, drug dealing, auto theft or leading police on a high speed chase; he cannot be sentenced to prison, and will often serve little time in an overcrowded county jail, before release on PRCS.
Realignment’s reduction of supervision of known criminals and the lowering of consequences for habitual felons who commit new crimes, is frequently having tragic results.
On Tuesday, October 22, five members of a Lodi family (a husband, his pregnant wife, and three children), died in a multi-vehicle car crash. The hospitalized suspect is Ryan Morales, a habitual criminal released from prison to light supervision on PRCS under Governor Brown’s Realignment law. Following the crash, KCRA News reported that witnesses saw Morales driving at “freeway speeds” and possibly talking on his cell phone before plowing through an intersection and killing the five family members, leaving a nine-year-old orphaned. A search warrant executed at Morales’s home indicates that authorities were searching for empty alcohol bottles in the garage of the home after it was revealed by his mother that she had witnessed him drinking vodka prior to the crash.
Last May, Morales was sentenced to 16 months in prison for recklessly evading a police officer. Under Realignment he was released after serving less than half of his sentence and placed on PRCS. Prior to Realignment, Morales would have served at least eight months in prison and would have been behind bars on Tuesday, October 22.
On October 24, 2013, a San Diego police officer was shot and seriously wounded by a known gang member on parole who was sought by police on two felony warrants. Shortly after the shooting, Ignacio Canela was arrested on several charges including attempted murder. The officer, five-year veteran Tim Bell, a 29-year-old married father of three, was shot with a gun reported stolen last month. According to ABC News 10, Canela had an extensive and violent criminal record going back ten years. He had been arrested in August and charged with two felonies, neither considered serious under Realignment and released pending trial. Prior to Realignment, Canela would have been held without bail for parole revocation and trial on the most recent charges. He would have been returned to state prison for up to one year just on the parole violation, rather than released to shoot Officer Bell.
On September 27, 2013, two San Jose men, both free on PRCS, were arrested after police located two vehicles that the pair had stolen. The San Jose Mercury News reports that Kevin Tran, who was on PRCS for possession of stolen property, was booked into county jail on charges of auto theft, possession of stolen property, possession of drug paraphernalia, and probation violations. His accomplice, Vu Mai, had been recently released after a narcotics violation and was charged with auto theft, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of stolen property in addition to several other probation violations. None of these crimes are considered serious under Realignment and if these two criminals are convicted, they may serve a short county jail sentence before being released back to the community on PRCS. Under Realignment, they can continue to commit these crimes indefinitely without fear of ever being sent to prison.
On October 8, 2013, a registered sex offender was arrested by the Fresno Police Department after removing his court-ordered ankle monitor and allegedly groping a college student in a campus library. Marc Benjamin of the Fresno Bee reports that Fidel Tafoya, who has a criminal record dating back more than 20 years, was sentenced to a year in jail last March after being convicted of the so-called non-serious crime of sexual battery. But he was released from jail after serving less than two months and ordered to wear an ankle monitor. Tafoya has been convicted on several occasions for crimes such as assault and attempted rape, with many of the incidents taking place at schools and libraries.
“None of these criminals would be considered non-serious by most Californians, but under Governor Brown’s Realignment they were left in the community to commit new crimes and turn law-abiding people into victims,” said Foundation President Michael Rushford. “The Governor and every politician who voted for this law share responsibility for these victims,” he added.