Public Safety Realignment

California wins two-year extension in fight over inmate releases

Posted on February 11, 2014. Filed under: California State Budget, Courts, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Published: Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 – 11:15 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 – 8:05 am

A panel of federal judges Monday gave California two more years to cut its prison population to a level originally ordered in 2009, a move that once again gives the state more breathing room to comply, but also establishes a non-negotiable deadline.

Under Monday’s order, the state has until Feb. 28, 2016, to reduce the inmate population in its 34 adult prisons – designed to hold 81,574 inmates – to 137.5 percent of its current design capacity. State prisons now house roughly 117,600 inmates. The order requires the number to be reduced to 112,164 and bars the state from sending inmates to out-of-state prisons to get to that level.

The order essentially adopts a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration that promised the judges the state would not seek further delays or court appeals if an extension was granted.

The order comes from a specially created three-judge court consisting of 9th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the San Francisco-based Northern District of California, and Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California. The panel found in 2009 that overcrowding in California’s adult prisons has pulled the quality of medical and mental health care for inmates well below constitutional standards.

The three judges acknowledged they were “reluctant” to grant yet another extension of an order originally issued in August 2009. But they added that promises from the state not to further appeal a case that has twice been to the U. S. Supreme Court will help achieve the “durable solution” to overcrowding that has harmed the state’s ability to provide a level of medical and mental health care to inmates that is not “cruel and unusual.”

“This should bring an end to defendants’ continual appeals and requests for modifications of this Court’s orders,” the judges wrote.

The order is a win for Brown, who is expected to seek re-election and already is facing criticism over his “realignment” program that shifted responsibility for nonviolent, low-level offenders from prisons to county jails.

In January 2013, Brown declared that the state had done enough to reduce its inmate population and asked the court to return oversight of the state’s prisons to California, something the judges rejected.

On Monday, after more than a year of intense legal fights, the governor indicated he was pleased with the decision.

“It is encouraging that the Three-Judge Court has agreed to a two-year extension,” Brown said in a statement. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer.”

The order also is a victory for Senate Democrats who championed the idea last summer of restricting prison expansion in favor of sentencing reform and enhanced rehabilitation programs to reduce the number of inmates, something Brown initially opposed.

“I’m very pleased,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview from Washington, D.C. “It’s what we’ve been pushing for since August.

“It was very clear back during the summer that the choices were pretty untenable: release people early or spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lease jail space outside our existing prisons.”

But the order is a setback for attorneys for the state’s mentally and medically ill inmates, who have argued that immediate population reductions are needed to combat high suicide rates, deaths from lax treatment, and related chronic staffing shortages in the prisons’ medical and mental health treatment units.

“We’re disappointed that the court didn’t order the state to comply with the Supreme Court’s order more quickly,” said Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, which has been in the forefront of the fight to improve the lot of inmates. “The conditions are still overcrowded and it’s still cruel and unusual punishment.”

Specter, whose staff and co-counsel had won a string of legal victories over the state until Monday, said no decision had been made yet on whether an appeal will be filed. Any appeal from the three-judge court goes directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The deadline extension “is dangerous and unjustified,” declared Michael Bien, lead counsel for the inmates. He cited a recent series of hearings before Karlton on the handling of mentally ill inmates as proof that “the violations (of previous court orders) are so extreme that it is dangerous to do this. People are dying all the time. I hope the state takes this undeserved opportunity to improve the unconstitutional conditions that persist, but there’s no assurance it will.”

Others warned that the judges’ order eventually could increase crime.

“This court order is tragic; it turns our justice system upside down,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a statement.

“Once released, these dangerous felons will threaten our local communities, where residents are already suffering from increased crime and where police agencies are overburdened,” added Nielsen, a former chair of the state Board of Prison Terms.

The judges said the reductions to be achieved over the next two years can come from immediately increasing good time credits for nonviolent, second-strike offenders and minimum-custody inmates, expanding parole for medically incapacitated inmates, creating new rules to allow for parole hearings for inmates 60 and older who have served at least 25 years, and from other means.

The panel also noted that Brown’s administration has agreed to consider establishing a commission to reform state sentencing laws and wrote that the extension will allow for hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds to be directed at a “recidivism reduction fund” rather than housing more inmates.

But, an obviously agitated Bien said: “There is nothing in the order mandating a revision of the state’s criminal justice policies. It’s just maybe this and maybe that.”

The judges also indicated that it will not allow California to increase its use of out-of-state prisons, where 8,900 inmates currently are housed and where the state had said it would send many more if ordered to immediately meet the population cut.

“This solution is neither durable nor desirable,” the judges wrote of using more out-of-state prison cells. “It would result in thousands of prisoners being incarcerated hundreds or thousands of miles from the support of their families, and in hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent on long-lasting prison reform being spent instead on temporarily housing prisoners in out-of-state facilities.”

The judges have noted repeatedly that they take a dim view of the state’s foot-dragging in complying with their orders, and in Monday’s order they wrote that California officials have failed to adopt any of the measures the judges have approved, other than the realignment plan Brown enacted to reduce prison populations by tens of thousands of inmates.

They made clear in their order that they expect the state to meet certain deadlines and said they would appoint a “compliance officer” to ensure it does so.

That officer will make sure the state reduces the inmate population to 143 percent of design capacity by June 30 (116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

The compliance officer will have authority to release the necessary number of inmates to meet those levels if the state misses any of the benchmarks, and the judges conceded that they should have acted more forcefully and sooner to deal with prison overcrowding.

“We recognize that these measures should have been adopted much earlier, that (inmates’) lawyers have made unceasing efforts to obtain immediate relief on behalf of their clients, and that California prisoners deserve far better treatment than they have received from (the state) over the past four and a half years,” the judges wrote. “Similarly, California’s citizens have incurred far greater costs, both financial and otherwise, as a result of (the state’s) heretofore unyielding resistance to compliance with this court’s orders.”

The appointment of a compliance officer is the only positive part of the order from Bien’s point of view.

“To that extent,” he said, “it represents the judges’ frustration with the state’s defiance and their reluctance, for whatever reason, to utilize their powers of contempt.”

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AB 109 probationer kidnaps 10 year old girl – suspect at large

Posted on March 30, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

Suspect ID’d in Case of Abducted Northridge Girl

Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, was released from prison last summer under California’s realignment program.

By Jason Kandel, Samantha Tata and Christina Cocca
|  Saturday, Mar 30, 2013  |  Updated 8:38 PM PDT
Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, is wanted in connection with the kidnapping of a 10-year-old Northridge girl, the Los Angeles Police Department announced Saturday. He has a distinct tattoo on his right arm. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on March 30, 2013.

Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, is wanted in connection with the kidnapping of a 10-year-old Northridge girl, the Los Angeles Police Department announced Saturday. He has a distinct tattoo on his right arm. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on March 30, 2013.

Investigators named a 30-year-old parolee as wanted in the case of a missing 10-year-old Northridge girl, who turned up barefoot and wounded in Woodland Hills last week.

Tobias Dustin Summers, who has a distinct tattoo on his right arm (pictured below), is wanted in connection with the girl’s abduction, LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said at a Saturday afternoon news conference.

Summers has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 2002, Albanese said. He was released from prison in July 2012 under California’s AB 109, an initiative aimed at easing prison overcrowding, and was on “post-supervised release,” Albanese said.

Probation officials believe the 30-year-old is a transient known to frequent the North Hollywood and Devonshire areas. Summers is about 6 feet tall, 160 pounds, with blue eyes and cropped blond hair. He not a registered sex offender and authorities said there is no indication that the victim or her family knows the suspect.

“We really need the public’s help to take this guy into custody. If they see him, we can’t emphasize enough, call 911,” LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.

Investigators said Summers is the only person they are looking for right now, though the victim told detectives that two men took her from her bedroom, police said last week.

Detectives from LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division are petitioning the court for an arrest warrant.

The FBI is assisting in the investigation. Federal authorities said they are prepared to issue a federal warrant for Summers’ arrest if he leaves California.

“Should he leave the state, we will have multitude of resources throughout the United States and international, if necessary, to take him into custody,” Bill Lewis, of the FBI’s Los Angeles division, said.

The case involves a 10-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her home March 27 between 1 and 3:30 a.m.

She was taken to an abandoned home near a storage facility in Chatsworth before being dropped off at a Kaiser hospital in Woodland Hills.

She walked about a mile to a Starbucks where a passerby recognized her from media reports and alerted police.

She was found barefoot and with bruises and cuts on her face at 3 p.m. the same day she went missing, police said.

Since the girl has been found, NBC4 is no longer identifying the girl by name or in images that had been released by authorities.

The girl told investigators two men she did not know took her from her home and held her for more than 10 hours before dropping her off.

She said she rode in a black pickup truck, which police found during a search of a Bekins A-1 Moving Solutions yard in Chatsworth, police said.

Police were searching for a second vehicle they believe was used in the case.

Police — working with the FBI — fanned out across the San Fernando Valley, to conduct interviews and search locations where the girl said she believed she was taken with the hope of finding the men responsible.

As many as 20 detectives were believed to be working on the case. Police established a tipline for people to provide information about the investigation: 213-486-6890.

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Counties now facing inmate lawsuits

Posted on March 20, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
Updated 10:26 am, Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has spent billions of dollars and endured years of federal lawsuits to improve conditions in its state prisons, but the problems it has been trying to correct are now trickling down to local governments as county jails deal with thousands of additional inmates.

Law firms advocating for inmates’ rights have sued or threatened lawsuits against a handful of California counties because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to send lower-level offenders to local jails instead of state prisons as a way to comply with a federal court order.

The lawsuits allege the subpar conditions that led to legal actions against the state’s prison system — overcrowding, poor medical and dental care, inadequate mental health treatment — are repeating themselves at the county level. They note that jails designed for short-term stays are now being flooded with thousands of new inmates, many of whom are serving long-term sentences.

Riverside County is the latest to be sued and will be served with the legal papers on Tuesday, attorneys say. Fresno County is trying to negotiate a settlement to a lawsuit filed shortly after Brown’s realignment plan took effect in October 2011. Alameda County was sued in November, and Monterey County is expecting to be sued.

“It was a masterful stroke by Governor Brown to shift all the state’s prison problems to county jails,” Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller said.

His jail has become so crowded that he set out to buy triple-stacked bunk beds to handle the flood of inmates. Then a nearby state prison donated surplus beds it had been using when prison crowding there was at its worst.

“Ironically, the state of California gave us triple bunks they no longer need,” Miller said. The stacking of inmate beds in state prisons was one of the conditions that persuaded federal judges to order a drastic reduction in the prison population.

Nick Warner, the California State Sheriffs’ Association’s legislative director, said counties are concerned they will be exposed to the same liabilities under Brown’s so-called realignment plan that the state has spent billions of dollars trying to solve.

“They had problems before, but realignment makes it worse because people are spending more time in jail,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Berkeley-based Prison Law Office.

As of February, more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more were in jails designed for stays of a year or less, and that number is expected to grow in the years ahead.

The Prison Law Office’s lawsuit against Riverside County claims that medical care is so poor in its jails that some of its 4,000 inmates go months without seeing a doctor. When they do, the lawsuit contends they receive only cursory medical exams, inadequate follow-up and are rarely referred to specialists even when outside care is clearly needed.

As an example, the suit notes the case of a female inmate who entered the Riverside County Jail with Stage 4 colon cancer.

“Nobody paid attention to her complaints that the cancer had returned,” said Sara Norman, the lead attorney filing the lawsuit.

Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff said funding for jail mental health and medical services was cut during the recession but was being restored when Brown’s realignment law took effect, flooding the jail.

Inmates who previously would have been sent to state prisons now fill about a quarter of the county’s jail beds, forcing the early release of less-serious offenders. The county cannot keep up even with alternative custody programs such as tracking detainees with GPS-linked ankle bracelets, he said.

“We have more and more of these special circumstances we never had to deal with,” Sniff said.

The Prison Law Office’s lawsuit against Fresno County alleges that its inmates are routinely denied treatment for physical or mental illness or dental problems, and are vulnerable to attacks from other inmates because of the jail’s poor design and lack of staffing. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said she could not discuss conditions because of the settlement talks.

Monterey County has inadequate facilities and programs for inmates who use wheelchairs, are blind or have other disabilities, or are mentally ill, said Michael Bien, whose San Francisco-based firm is considering a lawsuit.

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children sued Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern last fall over his jail’s treatment of disabled inmates, with both sides blaming the increase in disabled prisoners entering the jail since realignment.

“Unfortunately, you can’t just knock down a wall and make handicapped-accessible cells. It takes time,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson.

To comply with the federal lawsuits, state spending on inmate medical, dental and mental health care has more than doubled over the last decade to a projected $2.3 billion this fiscal year. The state also has spent billions of dollars on new medical facilities and equipment, while the number of prison medical, mental health and dental workers more than doubled over six years, to 12,200 in 2011.

State officials decided California could not comply with the federal court orders simply by building more prisons, so under Brown’s direction decided to sentence lower-level offenders to county jails. Those convicted of crimes that are considered serious, violent or sexual still go to state prison.

Counties are receiving about $865 million to help with jail operations under realignment this fiscal year, an amount that is expected to exceed $1 billion next year. Given the number of new inmates, some sheriffs are questioning whether that will be enough, especially if lawsuits force them to spend even more so conditions meet constitutional standards.

Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres has proposed legislation, SB144, that would funnel any money the state saves through realignment back to local communities. His office estimates that would give local governments about $777 million more each year.

Counties also would receive immunity from realignment-related lawsuits under a bill announced Tuesday. State Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, is in the process of amending AB1106 to limit counties’ liability for poor conditions caused by the influx of long-term jail inmates.

In addition to the operating money, the state has given $1.2 billion to 21 of California’s 58 counties for jail construction, plus another $500 million to renovate existing jails. The money is expected to build space for nearly 15,000 local inmates over the next several years.

State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard and the governor acknowledge that counties are facing a surge of more serious criminals as a result of the realignment law. Yet the Democratic governor is steadfast in his view that local governments are better able to make punishment decisions.

“People commit crimes in the local community and they are now, to a greater degree, being supervised, being rehabilitated or being incarcerated locally. We’re transferring billions of dollars to achieve that goal,” Brown said in January. “We want the community that spawns the crime to handle the crime.”

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Gov. Jerry Brown takes notice of realignment complaints

Posted on March 20, 2013. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

By David Siders
Published: Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 – 6:15 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 – 7:47 am

As lawmakers stepped up pressure to modify California’s historic prison realignment – most recently at a news conference Tuesday featuring a crime victim in a wheelchair – Gov. Jerry Brown is taking notice.

The Democratic governor traveled to Palo Alto this month to confer with researchers about the impact of the law, which shifts responsibility for certain low-level offenders from the state prison and parole system to the counties.

In a private meeting, Brown told two Stanford Law School professors and their students that he was concerned about the way counties are managing their jail populations, among other matters, according to the professors with whom he met.

Later, Brown said he is “looking at realignment” and is considering “some ideas” about potential changes to the law.

Yet on the most basic questions about realignment, including its impact on crime rates and recidivism, neither the Stanford researchers nor Brown’s own administration can provide meaningful answers.

Nearly 18 months after the law took effect, evidence is scant.

“This is a big, historic shift, and, you know, we need to do a better job of looking at what’s happening and what’s occurring,” Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said after a meeting in Sacramento last week.

Asked if it was even clear what would make realignment a success or a failure, Beard said, “I don’t think it is. I think that’s part of the problem, is we haven’t defined even … what is the criteria for success.”

In the absence of broad evidence about realignment’s impact on public safety, critics of the legislation highlight incidents involving offenders they say would have been incarcerated if not for realignment.

Among the lawmakers presenting a package of bills to roll back realignment Tuesday was state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who calls realignment “the carnage that’s occurring on our streets.”

Republican lawmakers say an increase in crime in many cities during the first six months of last year is attributable to realignment, though researchers are skeptical.

Ryken Grattet, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said any fluctuation in the number of crimes committed over a small period of time could be attributed to a variety of factors and that “tracing it to realignment is tough.”

“It’s not just sufficient to report the statistics,” Grattet said. “You want to do the kind of analysis that would allow you to isolate the impacts.”

Robert Weisberg, one of the Stanford professors who met with Brown, said, “It is much too soon to tell. … Everything at this point is anecdotal.”

Politically, anecdotal evidence is problematic for Brown. If state budget conditions remain favorable and the economy doesn’t deteriorate, public safety may provide an opening for any candidate challenging the Democratic governor in his likely re-election bid next year.

Brown was attacked by Republican Meg Whitman in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign for his veto of death penalty legislation and controversial appointment of Rose Bird as chief justice when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983.

“He’s got a certain vulnerability here, to be honest” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who at times has been critical of Brown. “I hope that everything goes hunky-dory. But when you engage in a very large-scale program of turning people out of prison, whether they go out on the streets under supervised parole or whether they go into the local jails, there’s a huge risk involved.

“Ask Michael Dukakis,” South added, referring to the former Massachusetts governor pummeled in the 1988 presidential campaign by an ad featuring released killer Willie Horton.

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers brought to their news conference a 21-year-old woman who was brutally attacked last year by a former boyfriend. The man had been arrested for violating parole and failing to register as a sex offender the month before the attack, they said, but he was out of jail due to overcrowding.

“This is beyond statistics,” Nielsen said, motioning to the woman in a wheelchair, Brandy Arreola. “There, ask Brandy if crime is going up.”

Nielsen said, “Let’s not get into statistical arguments, folks. This is real.”

The prospect for the Republican lawmakers’ legislation is dim. The first of their bills, a measure by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, was rejected last week by the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Democrats opposing the measure, which would send sex offenders who violate parole back to state prisons instead of county jail, said the legislation runs counter to the state’s effort to reduce its prison population under a court order.

Yet it is not only Republicans challenging Brown. In response to reports of thousands of paroled, high-risk offenders disarming court-ordered GPS devices, Democratic Sen. Ted Lieu, of Torrance, proposed legislation to send offenders who remove those devices to prison.

Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced legislation to let parole violators be returned to state prison for up to a year.

Eggman was motivated in part by the case of a parolee accused of raping and murdering his grandmother in Stockton. Eggman is generally supportive of realignment, but she said changes are required to give local authorities “flexibility to address violence in the streets.”

Brown acknowledged the pressure he faces from lawmakers to act on realignment, but the burden of the court order to reduce California’s prison population remains intact, as well.

“We are witnessing calls to increase the number of people in prison, and we are under pressure to reduce the number of people in prison,” Brown told reporters in San Francisco last week. “Luckily, contradiction is one of my specialties, so I feel I can deal with it.”

Brown went on to suggest that certain shortcomings of realignment may be the fault of counties – not the state.

“I can tell you this: Some counties do better than other counties, and the challenge here is that locking people up at state expense is a free good when people have a problem with criminal activity, and now we’re saying, ‘No, you have to handle criminal activity where you are.’ ”

Researchers at Stanford, the Public Policy Institute of California and other institutions are beginning to study realignment in earnest. Grattet said “we’re close” to finding and reporting significant data.

Last week, California’s Board of State and Community Corrections endorsed an effort by the Public Policy Institute of California to collect data from 10 counties to identify the most effective practices being used to prevent recidivism.

Meanwhile, Weisberg’s colleague, law professor Joan Petersilia, is meeting with lawmakers at the Capitol this week to discuss research she and her students are conducting.

At the meeting in Palo Alto, Petersilia said Brown listened to students present research on realignment for more than an hour and appeared to be interested in learning more.

Following the meeting, Petersilia said Brown told her, “Send me your best students.”

Petersilia, a former adviser on corrections issues to Brown’s predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, lamented the limitations of the research that has been done so far.

“What you’d like to know is what’s the impact on the crime rate, and what’s the impact on recidivism,” Petersilia said. “Those are two questions that we don’t know.”

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California jail overhaul assessed after 6 months

Posted on August 26, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Crime Victims, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment, The Law |

By Kurtis Alexander
Fresno Bee
Published: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The overhaul of California’s criminal justice system last year was billed as a way to get more felons into treatment and out of the vicious cycle of crime, prison and more crime.

So far, this has hardly been the case.

Most offenders who qualify for rehab services instead of incarceration under the state’s new realignment policy are still being sentenced to time behind bars, reports show. Only a fraction are ordered to programs that include mandatory drug counseling or job training.

Additionally, the majority of these offenders, because of the way the new policy works, don’t get supervision after their release from custody. This supervision was common before the realignment began.

These shortfalls are adding to concern that the restructured criminal justice system, nearly a year after its October start, may not live up to promises of rehabilitating criminals.

“Inmates are going to be coming out of custody unprepared, and they’re going to be more likely to reoffend,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. “This defeats the whole purpose of realignment.”

The realignment shifts responsibility for most nonviolent felons from the state to counties. (Violent offenders still go to state prison.) Gov. Jerry Brown saw it as a way to relieve the state’s overcrowded prison system and, on this front, it’s been a success. The prison population has shrunk by more than 15 percent.

Counties, it was expected, would do a better job of managing low-level criminals than the state, by offering treatment services tailored to local needs.

During the first six months of realignment, about 72 percent of the nearly 15,000 statewide offenders newly sentenced to counties instead of the state were given straight jail time, according to a recent report by the Chief Probation Officers of California.

That happens despite the fact that realignment allows judges to sentence low-level felons to terms in local probation programs. County probation departments are where the treatment services are run.

“I think judges are still stuck in the old mind-set where they say, ‘Hey, this guy deserves a harsher sentence,’ ” said Allen Hopper, who has studied the realignment and works as criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

Six percent of the state’s low-level offenders were sentenced to probation programs during the first six months of realignment, while 21 percent were sentenced to a combination of jail and probation, according to the recent report.

In addition, offenders serving their entire terms in county jails also don’t get supervision upon release. Had those inmates gone to state prison, as they would have before the realignment, many would have been monitored and assisted through state parole offices. But parole is no longer an option for these offenders.

“We can’t change that person’s behavior who is walking out of jail without having some sort of jurisdiction putting together plans to help them,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California.

Pank and her organization are encouraging judges to sentence more low-level offenders to probation. That way, she said, they’re likely to get treatment as well as follow-up supervision once they’re on their own.

Many judges say it’s not that simple. Under the new policy, when a judge sentences an offender to a probation program, it eats up part of the total sentence, meaning less jail time. And that’s not necessarily what is warranted, they say.

“This is just part of the formula,” said Fresno Superior Court Judge Jon Conklin. “If a judge wants to give that person some supervision or services, they have to reduce the amount of custodial time that they would give.

“This is not our decision,” he added. “This is the Legislature reacting.”

The problem is especially acute in the San Joaquin Valley, where counties are handling more felons than had been expected under the prison realignment, according to the probation officers group.

The 12 counties between Kern County and San Joaquin County have been managing 8 percent more probationers, on average, than what the state projected they would under the realignment, the group says. Fresno County, for example, is supervising more than 1,100 additional offenders in its Probation Department, say county officials. The state had estimated less than 700 at this point.

By contrast, counties in the Bay Area and the Sacramento area have averaged 5 percent fewer offenders than what the state projected, according to the report.

In Fresno County, nearly 30 percent of offenders were sentenced to a probation program or a combination of probation and jail – instead of straight jail time – according to the recent report. That’s slightly above the state average of nearly 28 percent. But the percentages vary significantly from county to county, with some counties, such as Contra Costa, above 80 percent and others, such as Kern, closer to 10 percent.

Conklin called Fresno County’s numbers a good start. He said he expects the percentage of offenders going into probation to increase, not just because judges will see more benefit in probation programs but because the higher cost of locking people up may become too burdensome.

State officials overseeing the realignment said they are not in a position to comment on how judges are doing with the sentencing. They said it is a matter for each county to work out.

But California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said that the new policy encourages counties to make use of alternatives to jail.

In Fresno County, the Probation Department, like other probation programs across the state, has begun to beef up its alternative services, from drug rehab to vocational assistance to daily check-in centers.

“We would like to get a shot at these offenders and get them into a program,” said Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner. “We feel strongly that a period of intervention, some sort of program, is meaningful.”

Penner noted that the policy of realignment is not even a year old, and she’s optimistic that its effectiveness will improve with time.

“It’s still pretty early,” she said. “As programs strengthen and more alternatives are out there, I expect judges are going to have a higher comfort level and we’ll see more people in programs.”

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New law reduces oversight of parolees

Posted on June 8, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Parole, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

A change intended to trim California’s budget shortfall has meant a more than sixfold increase in ex-convicts who are off supervision.

By Jason Song and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

June 8, 2012

The number of state prison parolees freed from law enforcement supervision jumped more than sixfold in April as a little-known law that speeds up the release process took effect.

About 8,500 parolees were taken off supervision, a number that surprised many law enforcement officials who said they were racing to figure out how to deal with it. By contrast, about 1,300 parolees were discharged in March.

The shift has two major effects. It means those parolees will receive fewer rehabilitation services designed to ease their transition out of prison. And it also effectively reduces the powers police have to monitor their conduct.

When a criminal is on parole, police have broad authority to conduct random searches and arrest him on such violations as possessing weapons or associating with other felons.

“Taking away parolee status, from a law enforcement perspective, removes a valuable tool that officers use to ensure compliance with the law,” Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said. “We will no longer have the ability to violate their parole based on criminal behavior but rather we will have to arrest and prosecute them on a new charge, which is resource-intensive and time-consuming.”

The parole change was included in several laws that Gov. Jerry Brown signed last year to trim the budget shortfall by shifting from state to county authorities all responsibility for overseeing many prisoners and recently released inmates.

Under the new law, parolees who were last imprisoned for a nonviolent and nonsexual offense could be discharged in as little as six months.

Previously, they had to wait at least a year to end supervision.

Some law enforcement officials fear that a reduction in rehabilitation — which includes counseling, drug intervention and housing assistance — will make it harder for ex-criminals to get back into society and will make recidivism more likely.

“There is no reason to expect that they will be monitored or rehabilitated as they have been in the past,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley agreed, saying that the change appeared to be designed only to save the state money.

“It’s not about public safety at all,” he said.

In April, nearly 5,800 of the discharged parolees returned to the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego county areas, where they were initially arrested, according to state figures.

California officials say the number of released parolees should level out within six months, but they acknowledge that the state is on pace to far exceed the nearly 21,000 discharged last year.

The increase in parolees’ releases is one aspect of sweeping changes in the way California deals with criminals in the wake of sharp budget cuts and aU.S. Supreme Courtdecision requiring the state to reduce prison overcrowding.

Thousands of criminals who would normally serve their time in state prisons are now being kept in county jails, raising concerns about overcrowding and the

possibility of forced early release of nonviolent offenders.

The change caught many by surprise, not just authorities but parolees as well. Former prisoners interviewed by The Times say they recently went to their usual appointments with parole officers only to learn that they had been released — and that the state would no longer pay for their care.

“I was scared,” said Danny Romero, who is enrolled in a residential rehabilitation center near USC and has been to jail six times, the last for commercial burglary. “I didn’t have any money … and I thought maybe I should go rob a store like I’ve done before.”

Romero’s rehab facility agreed to pay for his continued treatment, but many other ex-convicts have either decided to simply stop or could not afford to keep it up, advocates say.

Nearly 75 people have already left rehabilitation centers that contract with the San Francisco-based Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, according to Demetrius Andreas, the organization’s vice president of community and after-care services.

Andreas worried that many will backslide into their old habits.

“Abruptly stopping in midstream is an open invitation to return to criminal activity,” Andreas said.

Some people released from parole are able to continue to find services, although they generally cannot pay for them. Mark Faucette, vice president of the Amity Foundation, which runs a residential rehabilitation center near USC, said he has 20 clients — including Romero — who are being treated for free.

“If we just kick them to the streets, we’re going to be paying for them one way or another,” said Faucette, who added that he wasn’t sure how long the foundation could continue taking people who cannot pay.

But many other released parolees are not returning to their rehab programs.

One man with a long history of drug abuse and mental health problems was making good progress at a Haight-Ashbury center, according to Michael J. Brenner, the group’s regional director. But “as soon as the agent told him he was off parole, he disappeared downtown,” Brenner said.

A week later, the man’s mother called Brenner, worried that her son had started his old habits.

“If you see him, could you tell him to please call his mother?” Brenner recalled the woman asking.

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Prisoner exodus in California continues, sparking safety concerns

Posted on March 23, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Parole, Politics, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

By Claudia Cowan

Published March 22, 2012 |

Facing a budget crunch and pressure from the courts, California Gov. Jerry Brown is chipping away at the state’s tough-on-crime approach by shifting 33,000 felons out of the state’s prison system. Releasing prisoners early is rarely popular, so the governor came up with a new plan, coining it realignment.

“People who commit low-level offenses, or parole offenses, are now serving their time in the county jail instead of being sentenced to state prison,” explains California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matt Cate. The state has transferred nearly 22,500 prisoners, or 15 percent of the inmate population, to the counties since last October.

The problem is, many of California’s county jails are already filled to capacity, and are having to release inmates well before their sentences have been served.

In Los Angeles, Lindsay Lohan served only four hours of a month-long sentence. Lesser known offenders, like James Lucio and Angel Espinoza, were re-arrested for committing more crimes just days after their release in Gilroy.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich doesn’t want those extra prisoners, and doesn’t mince words.

“The governor is nuts,” Antonovich says. “He has committed a political malpractice that’s going to threaten the safety economically, and the safety of every individual in this state, through this reckless policy and it ought to be repealed.”

Realignment supporters say that new methods of monitoring and rehabilitation will actually reduce crime from its current historical low, but it’s a strategy never tried on this scale before, and the state needs to shed another 15,000 inmates between now and next summer.

In exchange for taking on all those extra prisoners, California’s 58 counties are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the state to pay for housing and rehabilitation. But the ACLU just released a report saying too much of that money is going toward rebuilding or expanding jail capacity, rather than on alternatives to incarceration.

Other critics are quick to call the governor ‘soft on crime’ and statistics show that during Brown’s first stint as governor 30 years ago, California’s violent crime rate soared 36 percent.

The governor’s realignment plan is just now being implemented, but bottom line is that, whatever it’s called, thousands of prisoners will be walking the street in the biggest shakeup of California’s criminal justice system in decades.

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Sheriff releases inmates to avoid overcrowding

Posted on January 30, 2012. Filed under: Crime, Public Safety Realignment |

By Dana Littlefield

San Diego Union Tribune

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SAN DIEGO — A recent surge in the population at county jails has prompted Sheriff Bill Gore to start shaving up to 10 percent off jail terms for some inmates to avoid overcrowding.

The number of men held in custody this month in San Diego County swelled to 96 percent of capacity. Most of the increase can be traced to a law Gov. Jerry Brown sought and the Legislature approved last year that allows some lower-level criminals to be sentenced to local jail instead of state prison.

Around Jan. 19, Gore authorized the release of about 260 inmates, most of whom were serving misdemeanor sentences or were nonviolent felons ordered to serve jail time as a condition of probation. The average number being released now is about 35 to 40 a day, he said.

“Most of them would have been released within a couple weeks,” Gore said Thursday. “We had the immediate need to create bed space.”

He said none of the inmates released early had been sentenced under the state law that took effect Oct. 1.

“This is not new,” Gore said of the 10 percent early-release credits, which grew out of a pair of lawsuits filed in the 1970s and 1980s aimed at improving conditions for San Diego County inmates.

He and previous sheriffs used that discretion for more than 20 years until early 2010, when the number of jail bookings started coming down, he said.

Since Brown proposed in April shifting responsibility for some state inmates to county jails, local officials have voiced concern about potential overcrowding and other possible dangers associated with the plan known as “realignment.”

It has been described by law enforcement officials as the biggest change to criminal justice in California in decades. It shifted responsibility for certain nonviolent and nonserious offenders from the state to the counties to help close a massive budget gap and ease prison overcrowding.

About 500 felony crimes have been identified for which offenders can be sentenced to county jail instead of prison. They include vehicular manslaughter, grand theft and sale of illegal drugs. Sex offenders who would have gone to state prison before realignment will continue to do so.

County Supervisor Greg Cox was one of the local officials who expressed trepidation about realignment when the Board of Supervisors approved the local implementation plan in September.

“I just have this sinking feeling that somewhere down the line somebody is going to be out that shouldn’t be out and do something that they shouldn’t do,” Cox said at the time.

In an email Thursday to U-T San Diego, he said, “I have full faith in Sheriff Gore and how he operates our County jails and trust his judgment on early release. Ultimately, the reason for early release is due to the state’s poor management of its budget and prison system, which has put more inmates into County jails.”

San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said Thursday he did not expect the early releases to significantly affect crime in the city, which continues to see historic lows in overall crime rates.

“I don’t think it will cause problems,” he said, although he acknowledged some offenders may “slip through the cracks.”

Judge David Danielsen, assistant presiding judge of the San Diego Superior Court, said he was not surprised to learn of the recent releases because it was inevitable overcrowding would occur under the state law.

But, Danielsen said, “It’s always best if the court’s orders for custody are fully honored.”

As of last week, San Diego County’s inmate population had grown to about 5,200. Total capacity, which is set by the courts, is capped at 5,600 — 4,600 men and 1,000 women.

“That’s why we felt we had to implement some of these early releases,” Gore said.

Only men have been released so far because that’s where the crowding is. The female inmate population is around 70 percent of capacity.

Because of realignment, the jails are housing hundreds of inmates who previously would have been sent to prison as well as parolees who violated the terms of their parole. Gore said parole violators are spending an average of 60 days in local custody, when the previous estimate was around 30 days.

The situation wasn’t helped by a succession of holiday weekends, when arrests for DUIs and other crimes are often higher and suspects have to wait an extra day to have their bail set by a judge.

It remains unclear how long the sheriff will continue to impose the 10 percent sentence reductions.

“If our population stabilizes, we’ll stop that,” Gore said.

Staff writer Kristina Davis contributed to this report.

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Counties Struggle With New Probationers

Posted on January 12, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Parole, Politics, Public Safety Realignment |

Capital Public Radio

(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

County parole departments in California are in the third month of trying to integrate former prison inmates into county probation systems. Such inmates are classified as non-violent, non-serious, non-sex-offenders.  So far, Sacramento County has processed 700 of them, including one man, Aaron Suggs, who was arrested this week for sexually assaulting a woman and robbing her in her home.

Suggs was released to Sacramento County Probation as a non-serious offender under the state’s new “re-alignment” policy.  He had been in prison for drugs.

Alan Seeber is with Sacramento County probation.  He says the state’s classification of some parolees is flawed.

SEEBER:   “Say somebody was committed to state prison for assault with a deadly weapon and served five years of state prison time.  They were then paroled, completed their parole and then were subsequently arrested for something like a vehicle theft.  That vehicle theft would then qualify as a non-serious, non violent, non-sex offense.”

Suggs’ ten convictions in Sacramento were mostly for property crimes or drugs.

Sacramento County Probation is not sure how many of the 700 have already reoffended.   Dana Toyama with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says the state is not tracking the number of offenders who re-offend, but counties are encouraged to.

TOYAMA:  “In June, funding will be re-allocated to the counties based on the actual impact of re-alignment to the counties. So, it’s important for counties to maintain good records and good accounting for how may offenders they’re seeing.”

Toyama says nearly 8,000 inmates were released statewide to the supervision of probation departments in November and December.  Both Toyama and Seeber say studies have shown local supervision of parolees can reduce the recidivism rate from two-thirds to about one-third.

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County Jails Maxed Out Due to New State Law

Posted on January 11, 2012. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime, Prisons, Public Safety Realignment |

Reported by: KPSP Local 2 News Services


Riverside County’s jails are on the verge of reaching maximum capacity because of the influx of low-level inmates from state prisons, sheriff’s officials said Friday.

The county’s 3,906 jail beds are 99 percent occupied, and the resulting overflow of inmates will leave the Sheriff’s Department little choice but to start releasing some offenders before their sentences are served, Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez noted that the county’s five jails now house 735 prisoners whose felony convictions met the criteria set by Assembly Bill 109.

The law states individuals convicted of crimes that fall into the non-violent, non-serious, non-sexually oriented category, and whose principal offense results in a sentence of three years or less, are to be incarcerated in county jails.

AB 109 led to a 20 percent jump over the last three months in the number of convicted felons being sentenced to time in county jail, sheriff’s officials said.

The governor and various lawmakers pushed AB 109 as part of his “realignment” strategy, which involved shifting more state responsibilities onto counties. Supporters argued it would lead to greater efficiencies, but opponents countered that already burdened local resources would be stretched to the limit.

Gutierrez said a federal court order requires that every inmate in a local jail has a bed.

To avoid overcrowding, sheriff’s officials will have to exercise alternative measures, “such as electronic ankle bracelet monitoring, return parole violators to the supervision of parole, and early release of some lover-level inmates.”

The state has allocated the county $24 million in the current fiscal year to cover costs stemming from the new law.

But most public safety officials don’t believe that will be enough, and doubts linger as to whether adequate funding will be made available in the future given the state’s unending budgetary red ink.

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