Public Safety Summit sheds light on prison realignment
LANCASTER – Assemblyman Steve Knight hosted a public safety summit Wednesday evening regarding California’s new Realignment Plan, which took effect on Oct. 1.
The Public Safety Realignment Plan or AB 109 came about because of a Supreme Court decision that said too many people occupy the prison population and this was something that needs to be fixed, Knight said.
“The court case came down and said you can put 137.5 percent of your population in your prisons,” he said. “That’s it.”
Knight added that some people read that to mean that a certain number of people already in prison are going to be released, but that’s not the case.
One of the biggest issues with AB 109 is that when someone gets convicted of a non-serious, non-violent or non-sex crime, they won’t be going to prison, Knight said. They will go to the county jails instead.
“When somebody breaks the law and they get convicted of that crime, they should be penalized and that means serving their time,” he said.
Palmdale Sheriff Captain Bob Denham, Lancaster Sheriff Captain Bob Jonsen and California Highway Patrol Captain Steve Urrea also spoke Wednesday on how the realignment plan would affect their departments.
Capt. Denham said as a result of jail overcrowding, prisoners’ sentences are modified to a very small percentage of time they have to serve.
“The Los Angeles County jail will hold somewhere between 18,000-20,000 prisoners, and right now, we’re running just under 17,000 prisoners a day because not all of our jails are open,” Capt. Denham said. “We expect to get about 7,000 additional prisoners. This obviously creates a problem and people will be released early.”
In California, 24,863 inmates will be released back into the population this year, Capt. Denham said. That’s about 26 people a day getting released, he added.
Because of the growing number of prisoners released, Capt. Denham said Patrol Compliance Teams (PCT) have been created to monitor parolees. The parolees, referred to as Post-released Supervised Person’s (PSP), are supposed to give an address when released.
“The prisoners have gotten a little smart and they say we’re transient, we don’t have an address,” he said. “This makes it much more difficult to track them.”
Capt. Jonsen said about 25 percent of parolees claim transient and could end up anywhere in the county. The enforcement teams in place are responsible for address verification and tracking down parolees who say they don’t have an address, but really do.
“As the captain of Lancaster, I actually feel pretty comfortable,” Capt. Jonsen said. “I’m not so happy with the amount of PSP’s landing in Lancaster right now.”
Capt. Jonsen said in the Lancaster station jurisdiction, 32 parolees have been released since Oct. 1 and about 60-70 are projected to be released by the end of the year.
“What we need to look at is if our overall number starts to climb or if it’s just a percentage of our average, which the average is about 1,000-1,200 parolees residing in the city of Lancaster,” he said. “My job is to watch that overall number. To me personally, I don’t really care if it’s a parolee under the state’s supervision or a PSP because we’ll still do enforcement efforts.”
Capt. Jonsen also addressed the issue of overcrowding; something he said is a major concern for most people.
The LA County jails will most likely reach full capacity in March 2012, he added, but they have a few measures in place to help with the overcrowding.
One, Capt. Jonsen said, is to work with the fire camps. The fire camps in LA County have 700 beds available.
“The advantage to the fire camps for us is that if we can secure that as an alternative for housing, it’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. “They can get well trained and they can really serve us in a positive capacity.”
Another thing they can do is farm out inmates just like the state does. Although, Capt. Jonsen said he doesn’t know if it’ll get to that point. He says they are seriously looking into giving early release with GPS tracking abilities to the lowest level offenders.
“A little piece of mind, maybe, is that we’re not just looking in March to kick people out because we have overcrowding,” Capt. Jonsen said. “They’re really going to work hard at rectifying some of that problem with these alternative options.”
Since AB 109 passed, there have been four corrective bills for it as well as four more that are ready for January, Knight said.
“We will continue to push to get 109 at least a little fixed,” he said.
AB 900, for example, should help relieve overcrowding by funding more beds in the prison system. Another bill Knight wants to get passed deals with the funding, because right now, this is not a mandated program.
“There’s got to be something that says the funding source is going to be there, or we’re going to have to determine that 109 is no good,” Knight said.