Baca backs off prison realignment plan

Sheriff Leroy Baca of Los Angeles County, California.
Sheriff Leroy Baca of Los Angeles County, California.
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is retreating from his novel proposal to assign deputies to supervise state parolees who are released under California’s new realignment plan. Some suggest the sheriff may be reading the political writing on the wall.

Baca presented his original plan to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. When Supervisor Gloria Molina asked him where his deputies would meet parolees to assess their progress, Baca seemed unsure of the answer.

“Where would these folks go? You’re talking about 8,000 people reporting,” Baca said. “That’s a very great question. I like it. You know what’s interesting about churches is that they’re there. And what’s interesting about county offices is that there are not enough of them," Molina said.

It sounded like Baca was suggesting his deputies meet parolees at local churches. Later, his assistant tried to clarify, saying they’d meet at sheriff’s stations and courthouses. But the sheriff never presented a budget to secure space for those meetings. That frustrated supervisors.

Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo said his boss has now decided his deputies should focus only on making sure parolees are complying with the rules of their release, like not carrying a firearm. He says it’s a hybrid role-sharing approach, with county probation officers doing the supervising and social work, referring parolees to drug rehabilitation, mental health and job training programs.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told Sheriff Baca that he’s skeptical of any hybrid plan, and noted that every other county in California will have probation departments monitor the new parolees.

“When 57 of 58 counties are going with their probation departments," Yaroslavsky said, "it raises an eyebrow and I think your burden of persuasion is much higher as a result.”

But Supervisor Molina has raised concerns about the probation department’s role as well. It’s faced federal monitoring of its management of juvenile halls and camps.

“Right now probation has its hands full," Molina said. "The thought of adding one more issue into the equation is very, very difficult for many of us to comprehend.”

Yaroslavsky countered confidently that the probation department’s done a good job supervising adults.

The state has allocated $300 million over three years for Los Angeles County to handle the influx of parolees under realignment. The board of supervisors must decide what county agency will control that money – at least in the first year – by August 1.