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Bad Sacramento deal: More felons, less money

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POSTED August 17, 2012 12:06 a.m.

When the Legislature passed Governor Brown’s public safety “realignment” plan last year, I was vehemently opposed to it because I predicted that it would put Californians in serious danger.  Regardless, we were promised that the plan would save money without compromising justice. But judging from recent history and a new report from the Chief Probation Officers of California, the Valley is receiving none of what we were promised.  It turns out, I was right to be concerned. 

According to the Probation Officers’ report, local communities received eight percent more prisoners from the state than anticipated. Given that San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties’ local jails are already dealing with budget problems of their own, having the state dump more prisoners on their laps is a recipe for disaster. Because of overcrowding, there has been more pressure on local law enforcement to release inmates early.

Although there is a federal court order requiring the state to reduce the prison population by 33,000, realignment will result in over 52,000 offenders being shifted from state prison to local jails by 2013-14.  The Governor’s scheme will not only meet its mandated objective by putting inmates into overcrowded local jails, in doing so, it will also exceed the goal of the court order by over 40%. 

Even worse, the state is shortchanging Valley counties of the money they were promised in exchange for taking on such a dangerous challenge.  Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1020, which changed the state’s formula of realignment dollar allocation. This new formula “rewards” mostly urban counties like San Francisco, who felt they were underpaid in the original formula because it was based on the number of inmates a county had in state prison, as those prisoners were to become a local responsibility.

However, the new formula means twelve counties between San Joaquin and Kern will receive a smaller percentage of public safety funds than they would under the original formula. San Joaquin will lose approximately $1.4 million in funding while Stanislaus will lose approximately $2.1 million. Given these tough budgetary times, the loss of these precious dollars will probably mean more early releases or more lenient sentences of criminals.

Meanwhile, seven of nine Bay Area counties will receive substantially more funding. San Francisco County alone will receive an additional $5 million, even though it has an economy that is in much better shape than most inland counties.

We must remember that prison realignment is more than just a numbers game.  Sadly, realignment has caused real pain for families. Andrew Maloney, a state firefighter with a bright future ahead of him, was killed by a drunk driver on Highway 165. The woman who killed Andrew was sentenced to just one year in jail. As outrageous as that sentence was, because realignment considers Andrew’s killer “non-serious” and “non-violent” under the law, the drunk driver will not have to spend even one day behind bars.

I will second the sentiments of Andrew’s friends and family: if killing another human being is considered non-serious and non-violent in Sacramento, then our state has truly lost its moral bearings. Tragically, Andrew is not the only victim of realignment. More examples can be found at www.cacrimewatch.org.

Realignment is the silent public safety disaster that many in Sacramento would rather not talk about. We release prisoners based on finances rather than justice.  And implementing a new and unfair funding scheme on Valley counties has only added insult to injury. We need to scrap realignment before further damage is done to more families.

 

Assemblyman Bill Berryhill represents the 26th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes the communities of Stockton, Manteca, Ripon, Turlock, Ceres, Lockeford, Modesto, Denair, Linden, Escalon, portions of Galt, Lodi and Tracy.

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