This week in Realignment: May 10, 2013

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Campaign season for the 2014 elections is already heating up and public safety realignment is fast becoming one of the most politicized topics.

One could argue that Gov. Brown’s abrupt decision to take on the Court’s and symbolically wait until the last possible minute to file a plan for transferring an additional 10,000 inmates out of state prisons was his first gambit for re-election. He is still talking about another costly appeal after the fact.

These are populist moves aimed at putting Gov. Brown squarely on the side of the people who have some measure of panic about realignment affecting their public safety. It’s a message that other politicians are starting to seize on as well. Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who is planning on running against Gov. Brown, has already announced that he will introduce legislation to repeal AB 109.

“It’s a a disservice to the public for politicians to perpetuate the same fear-mongering narrative that the media, for the most part, has latched on to in California. Much of what they say is so blatantly inaccurate I can’t imagine they really believe it.” said Sharon Aungst, Director of the Partnership. “Realignment is a long term proposition  that is about reducing not only the number of inmates in state facilities and jails today but using programs that evidence shows reduces recidivism so we in turn reduce the number returning to prisons and jails.  To repeal at this point based on drummed up public fear that attaches any local crime to AB 109 would be the absolute wrong move.”

This Op-Ed by Curt Hagman for The Sun out in San Bernardino is a prime example and something that is more and more representative of a cohesive Republican narrative taking shape on the topic. After giving up a supermajority to Democrats across both houses last November, it makes sense for the Republican party to try to find an issue that will help them garner public support.

Hagman uses the term “felon release” to describe the program. He cites  FBI statistics which say “in the first half of 2012, California saw incidents of murder rise nearly 8 percent, rape nearly 8 percent, burglary over 10 percent, and vehicle theft 11 percent.” There are two problems with this.  

First violent crime went up in many counties, yet LA had a significant reduction in violent crime. Since the largest proportion of prison inmates come from LA there should have been an increase if realignment was totally flawed. 

The second problem is that these increases and decreases do not constitute a trend. It would be unwise to close prisons or add new prisons after seeing a change in crime rates over 6 months or a year. The flip-flopping that would occur from this would paralyze state and local government.  Both conservatives and liberals are dead wrong if they are using less than 3 years of data showing a trend to make major policy decisions.  Yet it is politically expedient to play on the public’s fear instead of offering positive solutions to the problems the trends demonstrate do exist.  

But their attempts to do so don’t have to wait for 2014 to come to fruition. From the Sacramento Bee:

A plan for inmate population reduction in California’s prisons that was submitted Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown and his corrections department to three federal judges may be dead on arrival.

Nearly the whole plan depends on the Legislature’s approval, and a number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Friday they see serious flaws in it.

Even if the required appropriations and changes in the law were made, it would take some months to get the measures up and running.

In the document containing the plan, it is made clear that Brown is not going to spend any of his political capital getting the Legislature to act.

If the plan fails to pass through the Legislature, Gov. Brown may again be in danger of a contempt charge by the courts which will likely result in heavy fines for each day the state fails to comply with the court’s order.. Sadly, as campaigns heat up, it seems as if the politicizing and the misinformation  will get worse before it gets better.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson