Police chiefs want a piece of prison realignment funding

Prison Realignment

Bear Guerra/KPCC

North Hollywood Police Department's Probation Compliance Unit is currently monitoring about 110 former prisoners throughout the district. On August 21, 2012, the Unit traveled as a team of five - one sergeant, and three police officers, and another officer from the LA County Dept. of Probation.

Police chiefs in L.A. County say they bear much of the brunt of prison realignment without reaping any of the resources.

Almost $400 million has flowed into L.A. County in two years under AB 109. That law shifted responsibility for lower level offenders and parolees to the counties. None of it, at least in L.A. County, has gone to city police departments.

"That is your infantry that's keeping the cities safe, every day, 24 hours" said El Monte Mayor Juventino Gomez, who's also president of the Independent Cities Association. "But an infantry will never win without the right equipment, without the right funding." 

State Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said the whole point of realignment was to give money to the counties and let them sort out how to best use it based on local needs. 

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California prisons reform isolation units, but inmates say changes are cosmetic

SHU Bunk

Rina Palta, KPCC

A bunk in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, CA. (August, 2011)

California state prison officials rolled out a pilot program that makes changes to isolation units but inmates claim the reforms don't go far enough.

In the summer of 2011, many Californians became acquainted with the term "Security Housing Unit" (SHU) for the first time. That July, thousands of inmates around the state went on a lengthy hunger strike to protest conditions in the SHU's. The protests eventually resulting in an agreement between inmates and prison officials to expedite reforms in the units. Prison officials say the most serious of those reforms are now in effect, on a pilot basis, in prisons across the state. 

SHU's are the most restrictive prison cells in the state, originally built to deal with the leadership of prison gangs that wreak havoc behind prison walls. Inmates in the SHU are generally housed in single cells for 22 1/2 hours a day, take exercise time alone in a concrete courtyard, and have far less program opportunities and human interaction than inmates in the general prison population. Some describe SHU's as  "solitary confinement" or "isolation cells," a characterization disputed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CCDR).

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High rates of drug addiction plague third strikers

Supreme Court To Rule On California's Overcrowded Prisons

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

CDCR Secretary Matt Cate has said he wants to increase prisoner rehabilitation and that prisons have been so overcrowded that it's been difficult to identify and deliver inmates' needs. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Much sentencing law rests on a simple premise: people who've committed more than one crime are more likely to reoffend, so they deserve harsher punishment. That concept is at the root of California's Three Strikes law that gives prosecutors and judges one way (among several) to sentence repeat offenders to longer terms. 

Under Three Strikes, the courts can double the sentence for anyone who commits a serious or violent felony if he or she commits a new felony, regardless of its severity. A person who commits two serious or violent felonies can be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for any third felony. 

In November, with Proposition 36, California voters will consider a change to the law. Specifically, to receive a sentence of 25-to-life third strikers, as they're called, would have to commit a third serious or violent felony. That means the courts could no longer sentence offenders to life in prison with the possibility of parole for like petty theft and an array of "less serious" crimes. In addition, third strikers in prison on less serious felonies could petition the court for earlier parole hearings.

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Court won't force California to resume executions

Lethal Injection Chamber

CDCR

California's lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

On Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler denied L.A. County's request for the state to execute two longtime Death Row inmates who've exhausted all of their legal appeals.

For decades, Mitchell Sims and Tiequon Cox have sat on California's male Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County. That's why earlier this year, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office asked a judge to step in and order the state of California to set execution dates for the men. The state, argued Assistant District Attorney Michele Hanisee, has dragged its feet on its legal obligation to carry out the death penalty in California.

The state has been mired in litigation over its lethal injection process for years. On Monday, Hanisee argued that instead of resolving the lawsuits, the "state is going as slow as they can and calling it progress." 

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Report: LA among counties sending more to prison

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Inmates at Chino State Prison, which houses 5500 inmates, crowd around double and triple bunk beds in a gymnasium that was modified to house 213 prisoners on December 10, 2010 in Chino, California.

A new report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) echoes widespread concerns California may not be on track to reduce its prison population quickly enough to comply with a federal court order.

Last week, a federal court told the state it needs to come up with more ways of reducing overcrowding.

"I think they never intended to get to the court-ordered reduction," Don Specter, of the Prison Law Office, told the L.A. Times.

Realignment, many said, has run its course and simply cannot get California to its end goals. 

The CJCJ report, however, points to a different culprit, broaching the idea that county prosecutors may be behind the slowdown rather than the state.

Realignment, implemented in the fall of 2011, is the state's primary strategy for drastically reducing the number of people in prison. Realignment reassigned responsibility for offenders who commit lower level, non-violent and non-sexual crimes to the county. It also shifted responsibility for many parolees coming out of prison to the county, meaning most parole violations are no longer punishable with prison time.

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