For years, California's prison system was woefully overcrowded. A panel of federal judges appointed a receiver to tell the state what had to be done to comply with the law.
After numerous reform proposals stalled, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his plan for "realignment." He called his plan a "safe and secure" means of reducing the prison population, as required by federal courts. Only criminals who are not violent, haven't committed sexual crimes and are not gang members were to be sent from state prisons to local jails. Local law enforcement agencies were led to believe the funds they received would match the influx of new prisoners.
Since realignment was implemented in October 2011, it has overburdened counties by giving them responsibility for hardened criminals but far less resources than they need to adequately supervise and rehabilitate those offenders. Many counties did not have the programs or space to properly deal with these criminals.
Full funding has not materialized, leaving local sheriffs, parole and probation officials severely overburdened. According to a spring 2012 report from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the shift of responsibility for low-level felons is expected to save the state's general fund $3.1 billion by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Yet based on the information provided in the 2012-13 May revision and the 2013-14 governor's budget, it seems the state will have allocated only about $850 million of that savings to local law enforcement agencies over the past three fiscal years. That's $2.2 billion in general fund savings a little over $700 million per fiscal year that is already earmarked for other purposes.
Not only is local public safety not being prioritized, but the current funding allocation formulas also don't necessarily have the funding following the prisoner. State officials have elected to reward counties that have more diversion programs already in place, something the Central Valley and rural counties haven't had resources for in the past and can't start up instantly. Rural counties, particularly those in the Central Valley, have seen a dramatic spike in the number of offenders they have to deal with since realignment, but they are receiving far less state funding to deal with them. For example, The Fresno Bee recently reported that Fresno County receives about $12,000 per realigned offender, but Contra Costa County gets about $40,000. Disparities such as this must be fixed.
I introduced Senate Bill 144, the Realignment Reinvestment Act, to ensure the full savings the state is realizing from realignment is invested in local criminal justice agencies and that those funds follow the prisoner.
The concept of realignment has merit local agencies tend to have better access to rehabilitation programs, and housing offenders closer to their families and potential support networks may improve outcomes. Local law enforcement officials say realignment's goals can work, but only if they are provided the proper resources.
So far, the results of realignment have been dangerous felons with long sentences dumped into local jails, an increasing number of unsupervised and unrehabilitated criminals on our streets, the "hardening" of local jail populations, dramatic spikes in property crimes and gang activity and, ultimately, increased lawsuits against local government, similar to the state's prison predicament.
I did not support the governor's realignment plan, but it is here to stay. The Realignment Reinvestment Act will fix the flaws of realignment caused by inadequate and inequitable funding. It does not propose providing any new money, only the same amount per prisoner that the state would have spent pre-realignment. Equally important, it will allocate those funds fairly. Most important, it will provide adequate resources to ensure the goals of realignment can be met and that our communities will be safe something critical to us all.
Cannella, R-Ceres, represents the 12th Senate District, which includes all of Merced County and the western half of Stanislaus County.