Dan Walters: Hole found in 'success' of California's prison realignment

dwalters@sacbee.comMarch 1, 2013 

The official line from Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and legislative leaders – the party line, in fact – continues to be that a "historic realignment" of criminal justice responsibilities reducing the state prison population is a big success, end of story.

They express that attitude not only publicly but in paperwork filed with the federal courts claiming that the state has been so successful in reducing prison overcrowding, it deserves a reprieve from judicial supervision.

Brown is even warning that if the courts require further reductions, he would have to turn dangerous felons loose to prey upon the public – in effect, setting up the federal judges for blame should that occur.

The hear-no-evil, see-no-evil attitude about diverting tens of thousands of newly sentenced felons from prison into local jails and locally managed probation is so implacable that the state isn't even doing any studies on realignment's real-world impacts.

Fortunately, the Los Angeles Times has stepped into that void with a searing article that describes how many sex criminals have ditched their GPS ankle monitors and, if caught, are receiving little or no additional jail time because local jails are so full of diverted felons.

GPS monitoring of sex offenders is required by a 2006 ballot measure. Before realignment, sex offenders who disabled monitors would have faced additional time in state prison.

The Times cited the case of one sex criminal, arrested three times in two months after skipping parole, who was quickly released each time. After the third arrest, he ditched his GPS monitor and disappeared, then was arrested on charges of stalking a teenage girl in Stockton.

Central Valley counties with heavily affected jails appear to be particular prone to the catch-and-release syndrome.

The Times quoted San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Richard Giuliani as warning that having so many unsupervised sex criminals running around is fraught with peril.

"Sooner or later," Giuliani said, "somebody is going to get out early, and they are going to commit a horrible offense."

Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, has proposed a bill, Senate Bill 57, that would make removal of a GPS monitoring device an additional crime requiring additional prison time.

While that might be a deterrent, its approval is uncertain because it runs against the current Capitol practice of reducing, not enhancing, penalties.

One can only speculate how many other holes there may be in realignment. It's time for the Legislature to step in and provide the public with some real information on what's happening – particularly whether the felons now being diverted from prison are committing significant amounts of serious new crime, as some law enforcement officials have alleged.

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