With California's so-called "Public Safety Realignment" law well into its second year, California Governor Jerry Brown acknowledged in his recent State of the State address that there are "issues with realignment," but remained upbeat about the law's "bold and far reaching" changes. According to the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Realignment, which has transferred the responsibility for tens of thousands of habitual felons characterized as low-level offenders to California's 58 counties, has resulted in a dramatic lowering of consequences for crimes such as auto theft, domestic assault, and drug dealing. Prior to Realignment, multiple convictions of these felonies, and many others, often carried terms in state prison followed by stricter supervision on state parole. After Realignment, the harshest punishment a criminal can get for stealing $50,000 worth of jewelry from Macy's, or ten cars in two days, or for selling drugs to children from the back of a stolen ice cream truck is time in a county jail, many of which are overcrowded because of Realignment. When these criminals are released from jail, it is to much lighter supervision on county probation.
"In case after case, criminals sentenced to months or years in county jails are being released after a few weeks because of overcrowding," said Criminal Justice Legal Foundation President Michael Rushford. "On a daily basis, many county sheriffs must choose to release criminals they know will reoffend. It is no coincidence that property crime rose sharply last year and violent crime increased for the first time in six years," he added.
In the latter half of 2013, reports from the FBI and the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) documented statewide increases in property crime of 7.4% and violent crime of 3.7% in 2012. Some counties suffered much higher violent crime rates. Violent crime in San Diego County jumped by 8.8%, Orange County by over 9%, Sacramento County by 8.5%, and Contra Costa County by 12.6%.
"If this doesn't seem like much, remember that violent crime was going down before Realignment," said Rushford. "I doubt that the families of the victims represented by these numbers have been comforted by the Governor's remarks about the ways that Realignment is helping, "offenders straighten out their lives."
The PPIC report, released in December, attributed the state's reduction of inmates to ease prison overcrowding (Realignment) to the major spike in property crime. The report found several counties suffered increases higher than the state average, topped by Alameda County, which suffered an increase in property crimes of over 17%, and Santa Clara County, which experienced a 20.4% increase. It should be noted that both of these counties fully embraced the rehabilitation model encouraged by Realignment. In both, the emphasis has been to sentence felons to community rehabilitation and treatment programs rather than time in local jails, or impose split sentences with short jail sentences before release to programs.
"In the face of this data, the Governor's budget recommends mandating that all counties use split sentencing and that the state increase the good time credits for second-strikers, so that criminals who have been sentenced to prison for a second conviction for a violent or serious felony can be released earlier," said Rushford. This is fairly clear evidence that this Governor is not feeling the pain that ordinary Californians are suffering under his bold new vision."