Patt Morrison for September 29, 2011

Realignment begins: Counties prepare for influx of state parolees

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, double-tiered bunks are seen in one of the cells at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, Calif. that will be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under the new prison realignment program. The realignment plan, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is aimed at slashing the state's costs and reducing its prison populations by allowing judges to send non-violent, lower level offenders to county jail for crimes such as property, white collar and drug offenses instead of state prison.

Beginning this Saturday, California’s “realignment” plan takes effect. In order to alleviate overcrowding and comply with a US Supreme Court order, the inmate population at state prisons must be reduced by 40,000.

To meet that mandate, county officials will monitor prisoners who get parole at the local level. That translates to thousands of additional cases for county probation departments over the next few months. Additionally, anyone convicted of a non-non-non felony — that is, non-violent, non-sexual, and non-serious — will now be sent to a county jail rather than a state prison.

In a press conference today, Gov. Jerry Brown defended the state's plan to shift supervision to the local level.

"There will be bumps along the road, but from everything I can tell this is a viable plan that, as we work together, will not only ensure public safety, but will fix a prison system that has been profoundly dysfunctional for decades," he said.

In Los Angeles, the Sheriff's Department will oversee the housing of newly convicted felons in county jails. LA Sheriff Lee Baca has been sharply criticized this week, after an ACLU report alleging severe abuse of inmates at the hands of deputies, and calling for his resignation.

In its press release, the ACLU said the report "reveals the existence of gangs comprised of deputies that foment violence against inmates."

Baca responded that the report lacked thoroughness and didn't take into full consideration the range of services the Sheriff's Department provides.

"Our inmates are very well served with the mental health programs, I have more homeless people in there, more mentally ill than any other, and we do a lot of things. The characterization of gangs and the like is the result of what I call a lack of thoroughness in discussing a serious problem," Baca said.

ACLU of Southern California's president Peter Eliasberg blasted Baca in a statement.

"Sheriff Baca bears ultimate responsibility for the horrific details we uncovered compiling this report and must step down," Eliasberg said.

Baca told Patt Morrison that he had no plans to resign because of the report.

"As elected official I’ll let the voters decide what they want to do with a person like me, but anything that involves force is very complicated, and the fact that there’s nothing positive in the report is more alarming than what is negative."

The question of the state of the jails, and the wisdom of the realignment plan is on many people's minds.

LAPD Asst. Chief Michel Moore expressed some of the concerns of local police forces.

"The pace of this realignment is occurring by week by week by week, and in doing so, we’re concerned that information systems, protocols and services are not going to be in place in time for the first arrivals this coming Monday," Moore said.

LAPD is also responding to citizens worried about a crime wave as state parolees come under the supervision of county probation departments.

"We’re not going to curse the darkness. We’re not going to look at this for all its shortfalls and challenges that can’t be overcome, and the department is moving very quickly in establishing and printing our collaboration with probation to understand who these people coming out of state prison are, where they’re going to live and what services they’re going to be given." Moore added, "At this point, there will be about 100 plus officers—their mission will be to monitor this group."

For LA's probation department, the challenge will be adding state parolees to officers' already large caseload. Reaver Bingham is in charge of implementing the realignment plan for LA County Probation.

When asked if he expected what Governor Brown called "bumps along the way," Bingham responded that if an issue were to arise, "the issue would be funding."

WEIGH IN:

What preparations have counties made? What will it mean for already-crowded prisons in Southern California? And what will housing convicted felons in county jails mean for people accused of a crime, who are locked up, awaiting trial?

Guests:

Lee Baca, LA County Sheriff

Frank Stoltze, KPCC’s political reporter

Reaver Bingham, Chief of Adult Field Services for LA County Probation. Overseeing implementation of the probation department’s realignment plan.

Michel Moore, Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department


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