Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley said California's plan to shift supervision of thousands of former state prison inmates to counties will be a "disaster" for L.A. He made the comment as the Board of Supervisors prepared to vote Tuesday on a plan to manage the felons.
Under the state’s plan, L.A. County assumes supervision of nearly 10,000 non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offender felons coming out of state prison over the next four years. State parole agents used to supervise these felons.
In addition, thousands of people who commit new non-serious, non-violent, non sex-offender crimes will be sentenced to shorter county jail sentences instead of state prison. No other county will handle more felons.
“Consequences will be easily predictable," Cooley told KPCC. "A dramatically spiking crime rate.”
At a recent meeting of top county officials, Cooley said that the county doesn’t have the jail space to handle the new offenders, and that state prison time has provided a strong deterrent over the years.
“His comments are his comments and I don’t necessarily agree with them," County Chief Probation Officer Donald Blevins said.
Blevins, whose department will monitor the felons coming to L.A. County, said he thinks he can turn a lot of them away from crime by providing more help than the state provides. Under state parole supervision, more than two-thirds of felons end up back in prison.
“We actually think we are going to enhance public safety by reducing recidivism for this population by giving them opportunities to change and providing the services they need to facilitate that change," Blevins said.
Blevins said the county plans to provide more mental health and drug rehabilitation programs than the state.
L.A. County Mental Health Department Director Dr. Marvin Southard said he's developing programs for felons with mental illness and substance abuse issues.
“We have a broader base of community agencies with expertise for treating co-occurring mental illness and substance use," Southard said. "It’s the combination of mental illness and addiction that leads mentally ill people to go to jail.”
At the same time, Southard conceded that the state’s $112 million allocation to L.A. County for the first year probably isn’t enough to do the job. He hopes to apply for federal money, too – a tough prospect nowadays.
Local law enforcement agencies are bracing for the felons about to enter the county’s supervision.
“Many of them have extensive backgrounds in criminality," LAPD Assistant Chief Michael Moore said.
Moore said the LAPD is working with probation to develop teams of officers who'll monitor the felons – even as the department faces budget cuts and reduced overtime.
He’s pushed hard to require the county probation department to report to local police all violations by felons under its supervision. The probation department has resisted, but Moore said a urine test that finds a former burglar is using drugs offers useful information to cops.
“What all that means is that individual is taking narcotics again. And to have the ability to take those narcotics, you’ve got to purchase those narcotics," Moore said. And that, he said, may mean that person is committing burglaries again.
Under the old rules, state parole agents may have sent a felon back to prison if he or she “tested dirty” – especially if it happened multiple times. Now, under county supervision, that same felon may do some jail time but probation officials say the focus will be drug rehabilitation.
“I hope they are rehabilitated. I hope they make it," Cooley said. "But I’m a realist.”
The state starts transferring supervision of non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offender felons coming out of prison to counties Oct. 1.