Speaking to a crime victims' rally held at the state capitol last week, Governor Jerry Brown noted that the dozens of photos of murder victims on display were a visible reminder to lawmakers that the plight of victims "isn't abstract, it's very real." He later told reporters that his Realignment law is having encouraging results.
Although the Governor's 425-page Public Safety Realignment law implemented the most dramatic change in the state's approach to criminals and sentencing in California history, it was passed in April 2011 on a straight party line vote with no committee hearings. When the law took effect in October 2011, legislators who had voted for Realignment, academics who supported it, and the Governor's Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Californians that its provisions—eliminating parole for thousands of felons released from prison and the bar on state prison sentences for all but the most violent and dangerous felons—would enhance rehabilitation efforts without increasing crime, while complying with a federal court order to reduce the state prison population.
Over the next two years, the Governor and the Legislature ignored reports of scores of rapes, robberies, and brutal murders committed by so-called "low risk" offenders released from prison to light supervision on county probation (renamed Post-Release Community Supervision-PRCS) under Realignment. They also ignored the FBI Uniform Crime Reports showing a dramatic swing from declining crime to increasing crime in California during the first year under Realignment.
The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has been tracking the effects of Realignment since it became law, has accused the Governor and others who supported it as attempting to deceive Californians about the law's threat to public safety. New data from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, reported by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, seems to confirm this. Since October 2011, over 20,000 ex-convicts have been released to Los Angeles County and placed on PRCS. While the Governor and the Legislature told us that all of these criminals would be low-level offenders, Los Angeles County probation data indicates that 63.7% of the ex-convicts placed on PRCS (11,481) are ranked as high risk or very high risk of committing new felonies, and many have. Criminals on PRCS on Los Angeles County have been arrested over 26,000 times for new crimes.
Even the promise that Realignment would reduce California's prison population to meet the federal court order seems to have been an illusion. A January 10, 2014, story in the Los Angeles Times reports that the state's prison population has started to increase, and that projections indicate an increase of 10,000 inmates over the next five years. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported a 36% increase in admissions in 2013. All these new inmates were convicted of violent or serious crimes.
"We are finding out that most of the low-level offenders the Governor told us would be released are actually very dangerous habitual criminals. Instead of becoming rehabilitated under Realignment, many of them are continuing to commit felonies, including enough violent and serious felonies that the prison population is rising," said CJLF President Michael Rushford. "From a crime victim's standpoint, Jerry Brown is the worst governor in California history, yet he has the chutzpah to stand in front of a victims' rally and tell them he feels their pain."
CJLF President Michael Rushford is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.