Perceptions of crime are changing in California. The very real threats that we experienced leading up to the mid 1990’s have been replaced by complacency in the early 2010’s. Society seems to have forgotten that the threat of crime diminishes our social structure, creates fear in our neighborhoods, leaves victims of property crimes feeling vulnerable and victims of violence broken or dead. That, and concerns about runaway budgets, financial mismanagement, and the role of government have created a climate in which our elected leaders believe, and people support, the notion that it is better to release criminals back into society rather than the build the prisons necessary to house convicted criminals.
On November 6, California voters will choose whether or not to modify California’s Three-Strikes-and-You’re Out law when we vote on Proposition 36. Thousands of three-strike prisoners, individuals who have at least two prior serious or violent felony convictions on their rap-sheet may be eligible for re-sentencing hearings that can put them back onto our streets.
If passed in November, Proposition 34 will retroactively overturn California’s death penalty in favor of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Prop 34 proponents say that this will guarantee, among other things, that remorseless baby killers, cop killers, serial killers, and mass murderers will die in prison. What they fail to mention is that on September 30, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 9, which can overturn LWOP sentences for 309 remorseless killers currently housed in our prison system.
October represents the one-year anniversary of Assembly Bill 109, Governor Brown’s Prison Realignment Program. Realignment is supposedly the most benign of the measures being promoted in the current trend towards prison reform, because under Realignment, inmates who are classified as non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders are sent to local jails instead of California state prisons or put under community supervision. However, these Post-Release Community Supervision inmates (PRCS) could have prior convictions for murder or sexual offenses as long as their most recent conviction was for a non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crime.
The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has been tracking the impact of Governor Brown’s Realignment Law (AB109) since it took effect in October 2011. Here are some of their findings.
According to the minutes of a recent Los Angeles county meeting on Realignment, “Thus far, over 7000 inmates released. 4227 (about half of those released) have been screened. Of the 4227, 2692 showed at the assessment center for a full AOD assessment (63.6%). Of those assessed, 1176 (43.7%) were referred to treatment and of those 545 (46.3%) have shown to treatment. So, looking at the overall numbers, of the more than 7000 released, 545 have entered treatment for AOD (less than 8%).” This means that less than half of the offenders referred to programs are even showing up.
LAPD Sgt. Jeff Nuttall states, “Some of the people who are on this program are absolutely dangerous career criminals.”
In San Francisco, there are 306 inmates who were released under PRCS. On average, each of them has been previously convicted of eight felonies, and more than half convicted of violent, sexual, or weapons-related offenses. San Francisco Adult Probation Chief Stills said, “the population is high-risk with high needs.”
Carl Landry, a San Bernardino Probation Department supervisor, said that there is an increased number of high-level or leading gang members which have been released as a result of AB109.
In Lancaster, more than 300 offenders were released under partial supervision to Los Angeles probation officers since Realignment began. Nearly 200 of these offenders have been rearrested for new crimes or charges.
From October 2011 to July 2012, 3054 offenders were released into PRCS in San Bernardino. Of that number, 606 of them have been rearrested for new offenses, consisting of 489 felonies and 117 misdemeanors. Another 5 percent were re-incarcerated for technical probation violations.
Hesperia Capt. Steve Higgins said, “Of the 88 burglaries committed since 2011,...49 of them were committed by four people — two of whom were PRCS probationers. And of those 49, he said nearly 30 burglaries can be linked back to one PRCS probationer.”
Scott Herman, a sex offender from Santa Rosa, violated the terms of his parole within two weeks of being released under AB109. He was found by his parole officer following young girls around and behaving suggestively in a Walmart. He has been convicted of indecent exposure and molesting children six times (including parole violations) since 1996. Rather than serving his full one-year sentence in a California prison, he served only two and a half months in the Sonoma County Jail.