BERRYHILL: Continue prison realignment? Released prisoners commit new crimes

May 31, 2012 

"Here's the good news. Governor Brown I think has intelligently said, let's differentiate between people who are violent who belong in prison and lower level offenders who could be, who could serve their sentences in the community at less expense to the taxpayer and consistent with public safety. It's his realignment plan. We're gonna vote on that as part of the budget in the next couple of weeks."

— Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg,May 24, 2011

Vote on it they did. And now our communities are prey to the violent felons they have released early because they refuse to prioritize public safety.

According to Steinberg and Brown, "nonviolent felonies" include (but nowhere near limited to) the following:

• Felony child abuse

• Street gang recruiting

• Assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury

• Hate crimes

• Nearly all drug crimes, including sales of drugs to children and manufacturing methamphetamine

• A second violation of domestic violence protective order

• Participation in an act of lynching.

I don't call this "the good news."

Since the implementation of "realignment," our local communities have seen violent crimes being committed by these so-called nonviolent felons as our local sheriffs and police struggle to protect our communities from the state government's actions.

Make no mistake, folks; the state has resources necessary to keep these criminals in prison by expanding capacity. In 2007, the legislature passed AB 900 with broad bipartisan support. This legislation authorized $6 billion in lease- revenue bonds in order to expand prison capacity by as much as 40,000 beds.

Since that time previously approved prison expansions have been halted by the majority party in favor of their early release realignment plan. The fact remains that the money is sitting there and can't be used elsewhere, yet those running the show in Sacramento would rather see violent felons released into our communities than keep them locked up. This isn't about lack of resources; this is about out-of-touch liberals and their fundamental belief that prisons are bad.

This is also about priorities. The resources exist to adequately fund public safety. Unfortunately they don't have the courage to prioritize public safety ahead of the special interests whose projects and programs come first.

The majority party loves to throw our kids and the safety of our communities on the block in order to scare us into handing more of our hard-earned money over to them for safekeeping. Year after year they ask for more tax increases from hardworking Californians. And while they continue to demand these tax increases, they adamantly refuse to seriously debate the cuts and reforms that will get our economy on the road to recovery and our budget balanced.

They would rather see Timothy Hebebrand released into our community early than reform out-of-control pensions and cap state spending. And when Timothy Hebebrand is arrested in Manteca for kidnapping mere hours after his release, they look the other way.

They reject reforms to weed out welfare and IHSS fraud even as Jason James Reyes guns down a young father in front of his 8-year-old daughter in Hanford before going on to commit a home invasion robbery in Ventura.

The majority party needs to put our communities first for once. It's time they repeal the realignment law and expand and build new prisons to keep these violent criminals where they belong: locked up and out of our neighborhoods.

I continue to fight realignment and the cuts to public safety which put our communities at risk. I continue to demand common sense reforms to our pension system, out of control spending, and the burdensome regulations which continue to chase our businesses out of the state. Such reforms will revitalize our economy and get Californians back to work.

The majority party and the others releasing these criminals into our neighborhoods may think it's the "intelligent" thing to do; they may try to sterilize it by calling it "realignment." I call it what it is — the early release of violent criminals into our neighborhoods for political expediency's sake.

Berryhill, R-Modesto, represents the 14th Senate District. He is not up for election this year.

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