Southern California breaking news and trends

LA County is sending drastically fewer people to prison post-realignment

California's prison population has declined drastically in the last eight months.

According to new stats, Los Angeles is sending 41 percent fewer people to prison now than the county did before prison realignment. Overall, the state's prison population has dropped to about 136,000, the lowest in 17 years. Around the state, 18 counties showed drops larger than 50 percent. 

The numbers, compiled by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, show LA still sends more people to prison than any other county in the state — considering the county's population, however, LA's incarceration rate is pretty average. 

The big drops for California, CJCJ found, have been in drug offenders (down 60 percent), property offenders (down 60 percent), and parole violators (down 47 percent) going to prison. These are the offenders covered under the state's prison realignment plan, which re-routes low-level offenders and parole violators from prison to county-level supervision. Counties around the state have variously embraced and complained about the new system, which puts thousands of new offenders in their care. 


California's prison population drops dramatically

Solano Prison

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / EPA

In 2006 prisoners at Solano Prison in Vacaville had to sleep in common areas due to overcrowding issues.

For years California's prison population has been notoriously large: some say the biggest in the world (with the sometimes exception of the U.S.'s federal prison system, which currently stands at 217,859). Reaching a peak of170,794 in 2006, California's prison population has reached a 17-year low of 135,519.

Which means that Texas, with 154,000 inmates, is now on top. 

California's inmate decline is primarily the result of changes to the state's parole system and prison realignment, which have both reduced the influx of inmates to state prison.

In 2011, the US Supreme Court upheld an order demanding California drastically reduce its prison population or else build more prisons to relieve overcrowding. 



For the third time this month, a sex offender is apparently murdered in prison

California State Prison—Los Angeles County


California State Prison—Los Angeles County in Lancaster.

An inmate was found dead in his cell Tuesday at California State Prison-Los Angeles County. The death is being treated as a homicide and the inmate's cellmate, Aaron Alvarez, 42, is a suspect. Alvarez, serving a life sentence for first degree murder, was placed in administrative segregation while the case is investigated by prison officials and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. 

The victim's name has not been released, as his family has not yet been notified of his death. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the deceased inmate had been in prison since November 30, 1999 for aggravated sexual assault of a child in San Diego County. 

Sex offenders are known targets of other inmates in prison. And this death is at least the third such apparent homicide of a sex offender in a California prison this month and at least the sixth this year.


Los Angeles police chase ends in crash, DUI

LAPD, speeding, chase, los angeles police department cruiser squad patrol car

steve lyon/Flickr Creative Commons

If you missed last night's televised freeway chase through South Los Angeles, be sure and watch it here. After a lengthy chase, and a probably totaled police car, 28-year-old Compton resident Michael Mariano was booked on felony DUI. 

According to LAPD Commander Andrew Smith, officers saw Mariano "driving erratically" and tried to pull him over. They chased him for a while, called in a helicopter for overhead pursuit, and eventually caught up with Mariano in Compton--after he crashed into a police car and then tried to flee by foot. 

In the video, you can see officers tackle Mariano and forcibly restrain him. Smith said the incident will be investigated, just like every time officers use force of any kind.

"He certainly put the community in danger by driving like some kind of maniac through the streets of Los Angeles and then into Compton," Smith said, praising the Southeast Division officers who stuck with the suspect. 


The battle against prison rape

Mule Creek Prison

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / EPA

A new DOJ study found about 1 in 10 state prisoners in the US have been sexually abused.

For at least as long as we've had HBO, our society has been aware of an intractable truth: people get raped in prison. In fact, say people like Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg, writing in Slate, "the United States has essentially accepted violence—and particularly brutal sexual violence—as an inevitable consequence of incarcerating criminals."

In issuing new standards for combating prison rape today, President Barack Obama indicated he thinks sexual assaults behind bars can actually be stopped, or at least reduced. 

"For too long, incidents of sexual abuse against incarcerated persons have not been taken as seriously as sexual abuse outside prison walls," the intro to the new standards reads. "In popular culture, prison rape is often the subject of jokes; in public discourse, it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable—or even deserved—consequence of criminality. But sexual abuse is never a laughing matter, nor is it punishment for a crime. Rather, it is a crime, and it is no more tolerable when its victims have committed crimes of their own."