Richard Krupp, Ph.D.
For the past few months there has been much discussion regarding the transfer of responsibility for some prison level inmates to the local counties. The procedure was packaged and sold as “Re-alignment.” The impetus for the changes reportedly attributed to a Supreme Court decision relative to inmate health concerns and “over-crowding.” As I have mentioned in previous articles, any way you want to measure it, criminals are safer and healthier in prison than out. To deal with this “non problem,” the State of California is moving “low level” criminals from state prison to county jail and/or probation.
The Sacramento Bee reported on October 26, 2011 that, “Most Prisoners sent to county committed serious crimes in the past.” It was described as a “Vexing twist in inmate shift.” Who is the bigger fool? On one hand we have those who are sending the “Non serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders and on the other hand those on the receiving end having to figure out what to do with them. The Sacramento County Sheriff and various District Attorneys have expressed concerns about the innocuous sounding “Re-alignment.” It almost sounds like a chiropractic adjustment or something you would have done during a tune up to your car.
The Sacramento Bee article goes on to describe a realigned “Non” sentenced for Grand Theft, but previously convicted of Armed Robbery. Evidently someone figured out that criminals who commit “low level” crimes sometimes have previously committed serious and violent crimes. I guess some criminals dabble in both areas; they do not necessarily confine themselves to one type of crime exclusively. Imagine that. You can’t count on criminals to be consistent. Maybe a new category should be added to the “Non’s?” Maybe the new designation could be the “Semi-non’s.”
Actually the packaging and sale of the “Re-alignment” procedure sounds similar to the drug treatment failure sold to California taxpayers in 2000, packaged as “Proposition 36.” A Rand study released in 2005 used a sample from the more than 23,000 offenders imprisoned on low-level drug offenses from specified urban counties in 1998 and 1999, the last years of sentencing activities prior to the emergence of the Proposition 36 campaign in California. A couple of key findings:
The findings support prosecutors’ contention that low-level offenders receiving prison sentences had more serious and extensive criminal histories than the “low-level” conviction label suggests.
In the samples, the low-level drug offenders in prison were often much more serious offenders than the “low-level” label implies. Indeed, imprisoned low level drug offenders tended to have criminal histories reflecting their involvement in a variety of criminal offenses, cases involving large quantities of drugs, or both.
The Governor has sold a bill of goods to the counties and the taxpayers. The fact is that the people in prison are there for good reasons. They have already failed as citizens, as probationers, and county jail inmates. They have already been in various drug treatment and other “programs.” They commit a variety of crimes and do not restrict themselves to only one category. If the county level “treatment” had been effective they wouldn’t have ended up in prison. They will commit more crimes. Some will be “low-level” and some will be violent. There will be victims that there wouldn’t have been without “Re-alignment.”
Taxpayers cannot count on the Governor to be honest about the “Re-alignment” procedure. They likewise cannot count on the Department of Corrections administration to provide accurate information. Can they count on legislators or the media to act as watchdogs? I doubt it.
In the words of the Avett Brothers,
“There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light. In the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right. And it flies by day and it flies by night. And I’ m frightened by those who don’t see it.”
Maybe the Governor should ask for an extension from the court to provide more time to expand prison capacity. Can the old Youth Authority facilities, be utilized? What about expanding Community Correctional Facilities or out-of-state contracts? At least the addition of more prison space would protect the public from the criminals.