Democrat and Republican governors across the country are working to cut costs and lower taxes, but Governor Brown’s plan to level California’s $26 billion deficit – the result of several years of out of control government spending – is a “realignment” proposal that not only extends the previous administration’s ineffective tax hikes, but also irresponsibly shrugs the state’s financial burden onto the shoulders of cash-strapped county and municipal governments, creating a real threat to California’s economic recovery and public safety.
In April, Brown signed into law AB 109 – the public safety realignment bill – essentially launching a Trojan horse style attack on local governments and ensuring catastrophic consequences for Los Angeles County’s criminal justice system.
Set to take effect October 1st, this would shift responsibility for convicted felons and parolee supervision from the state prison system to county resources, transferring the state’s legal obligation to already overcrowded local jails and stressed law enforcement agencies — without fully paying for the increased burden.
Los Angeles County’s jail system, the largest in the nation, is already challenged with rampant violence and illness among detainees due to severe overcrowding conditions. Los Angeles County jails operate under strict federal court-appointed ACLU monitors, who cite overcrowding as the root cause of problems long-plaguing the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail.
Dumping barely-funded state felons into over-crowded jails means increased disruption, violence and liability. History speaks for itself. An older state contract was terminated when a rise in inmate fights and homicides resulted state prisoners doing time in county jails.
While the state vows that inmates transferred into county jails under AB 109 will be of the non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offender type, the reality is that many have actually been convicted of crimes and pleaded down from more serious charges. California’s stunning 70 percent recidivism rate means hardened, repeat offenders are continuously cycling through the state’s criminal justice system and will return to local jails through realignment.
Unlike state prisons – designed for long-term confinement – county jails are intended as detention centers for individuals awaiting trial, transfer, completion of misdemeanor sentencing. Los Angeles County jails simply do not have the capacity to take on the increased risk, liability, and social and fiscal responsibilities of a bigger and more dangerous criminal population with a strong gang component.
Altering the make up and increasing the size of the county’s inmate population plus inadequate funding equals impacts to security, healthcare, mental health services and drug rehabilitation programs.
Meanwhile, since sentencing will not change under realignment, some inmates could serve sentences of up to five years in county jails despite state funding for just six months worth of expenses. Adult parolees and juvenile wards will also become the county’s problem.
The Sheriff will be forced to make space by releasing misdemeanor offenders into the community long before they’ve served their time. Full jails mean no leverage over released felons and parole violators. The capabilities of every law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County will be compromised thanks to realignment.
And while realignment aims to reduce prison overcrowding, it also provides counties the option to enter into contracts for prison beds. Shifting the state’s budget issues to local government and then offering to take them back through contracting is just a little bit of black magic pulled from Governor Brown’s bag of amazing tricks.
By pushing state responsibility onto the backs of local governments already slumped under the weight of a flat economy and unemployment rate at around 12 percent, California washes its hands clean of responsibility to its citizens. Despite some of the highest income, gas, sales, and business taxes in the country, the state remains blighted by a bloated bureaucracy’s tradition of spending more than it has. Even a constitutional amendment guaranteeing realignment funding can’t save existing programs from plundering.
Just like a deadbeat parent, California owes Los Angeles County a support check for over $500 million in reimbursements connected to state mandated programs, including $50.5 million for state parole violators housed in county jails and $10.5 million services associated with the newly implemented non-revocable parole program – another state attempt at reducing prison populations
Instead of sending California into a faster downward spiral, Governor Brown must change course and examine the California Performance Review’s 1200 plus recommendations for $32 billion in potential savings over the next five years, and follow the Board of Supervisor’s example in achieving $3.6 billion in efficiencies by consolidating departments and reforming civil service outlined by the Quality and Productivity and the Economy and Efficiency Commissions.
Like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, shuffling state responsibilities to local governments will fail to prevent the inevitable disaster caused by realignment’s direct hit. Structural reforms addressing systemic problems in state government — not passing of the buck, temporary spending cuts, and higher taxes –must be enacted now to fire up California’s economic recovery without realignment’s nasty side effects of bankrupting local governments, severing services, and jeopardizing public safety.