By Jim Kouri
State and local government officials in California plan to remedy their problem with an overcrowded prison system despite concerns the plan might threaten the lives of innocent, law-abiding residents.
Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reads more like a “mandate,” California will initiate a plan called “Public Safety Realignment” on Sunday, October 2, in order to decrease its total prison population of more than 150,000 by as many as 35,000.
The California strategy dictates that criminals convicted of non-serious, non-violent or non-sex-related felonies will be sent to county jails instead of state prisons.
Additionally, convicts released from prisons and jails will now be under the jurisdiction of local probation officers rather than state parole officers.
California’s progressive Governor, Jerry Brown, stated on Thursday that the prison system restructuring is necessary to deal with a dangerous overcrowding problem that’s been ignored for too long.
But the government’s critics say they fear the budget burden on counties that would be forced to handle the transferred prisoners will force local officials to seek shortcuts such as releasing some inmates early and jeopardizing the safety of Californians.
A former police commander, Ronald Strang, believes this latest scheme is dangerous and will result in more victimizations. “With more criminals on the streets — which will happen with this plan — you can expect to see an increase in crime. Don’t these officials look at studies on recidivism rates?” asks Strang.
California State Senator Sharon Runner called the plan dangerous, saying “public safety will be increasingly compromised.”
“Local government will be overwhelmed as more and more convicted criminals are dumped into counties and the promise of new revenue from voter-approved taxes fails to come to fruition,” she said.
According to Governor Brown’s plan, the County of Los Angeles, the largest county in the United States, will receive upwards of 10,000 new criminals a year in its county jail. According to L.A. officials, the jail can only safely handle between 4,500 and 5,000 inmates.
The L.A. County District Attorney, Steve Cooley, told local reporters that without the capacity to house all the new arrivals, authorities would be forced to release more offenders before their sentences were up. Such a condition threatens to spoil the work the county has done to reduce crime levels to historic lows, Cooley noted..
Law enforcement officers are also concerned. Many believe sooner or later nearly everyone in county jail will be released after serving only half their sentences if they behave themselves. They were also concerned about whether California’s declining crime rate would shoot up as the state essentially steers its limited resources toward locking up serious offenders.
There could be a surge in property crimes such as shoplifting, burglary and ID theft, law enforcement officers said.
Leaders of the California Police Chiefs Association have already met Brown to request additional funds for an increased police presence to curb the possible crime wave.
Meanwhile, supporters of the plan said there was no need to worry.