Legislative Update: the governor and early release of prison inmates

Just yesterday [released May 2], the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee committed a grave error when voting down Senate Bill 144, the Realignment Reinvestment Act. The bill, which I co-authored, would have provided additional funding for frontline law enforcement, jail operations, community supervision and treatment services. The allocation of these additional funds would have been linked to the number of “realigned” offenders in each county, which is much more fair than the current funding allocation formula that puts rural counties at a disadvantage.

As you remember, prison realignment is the administration’s policy to reduce the state prison population under a federal court mandate. The governor decided to push certain low-level criminals, and the responsibility of incarcerating them, from state prisons to county jails. This had the effect of making county jails overcrowded — which then resulted in the early release of county jail inmates into our neighborhoods and communities.

Since this policy went into effect, at least 3,400 arrest warrants were issued in California for parolees, most of them sex offenders, who tampered with their GPS monitoring devices.

Parolees who disable their tracking devices have correctly bet that local jails are too full to take them back. The number of paroled sex offenders in the state unaccounted for and who remain fugitives is 15 percent higher today.

This past weekend, news reports indicated that shifting inmates from state prisons to county jails disrupted the process in which restitution is collected for crime victims. While there is an established policy at state prisons, many counties lack the processes to collect money from an inmate’s prison account to pay victims for their losses.

The governor’s realignment policy isn’t working. It continues to produce new problems that even its supporters hadn’t anticipated. And yet, many of my colleagues vote against legislation that could at least help and equip local governments with more resources in dealing with the rise in crime and number of parolees.

Some of my colleagues too often want to create new laws and administer new programs. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, they execute them with little success and fail to deliver on large promises made to the public. The role of government should be limited to a few responsibilities, and elected officials must manage them effectively and well. Protecting the safety of our families and neighbors in communities across California should be one of them.

Story First Published: 2013-05-08