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Realignment’s folly: more risk and less money

Another View
By: Beth Gaines, Guest Columnist
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Governor Brown sold his “realignment” plan of shifting thousands of “low-level” inmates from state prison to county jails as a way to save money and improve public safety. But as we learn more about how it is unfolding in practice, we find that many communities are worse off today than they were before.

A recent report from the Chief Probation Officers of California has found that more than 38,000 inmates who would have been the responsibility of the state prior to realignment are now instead being supervised by local government. Yet at the same time, many counties are being shorted money to manage them. Two of the counties that I represent in the Legislature, Placer and Sacramento, are among those counties affected.

Thanks to Senate Bill 1020, which was signed by the governor as part of the budget, Sacramento County will receive $3.2 million less than what it was supposed to receive under the original realignment formula. Placer County will receive almost $1 million less. This means fewer resources for local law enforcement to handle the extra inmates in our jails, leading to more early releases of inmates because of overcrowding.

It appears the main motivation for the funding shift in SB 1020 is political. In addition to counties like Sacramento and Placer, 12 valley counties between Kern and San Joaquin will receive a smaller percentage of public safety funds than they are currently receiving. Meanwhile, seven of nine Bay Area counties will receive more funding.

For example, while Sacramento and Placer counties have a combined population of about 1.8 million people and will lose $4.1 million in realignment funding, San Francisco County, which has a population of 812,000, will receive an additional $5 million.

In addition, counties that have high-risk fire areas will be put into further jeopardy because of realignment. State prison inmates have helped fight wildfires in the past, with more than 4,000 prisoners statewide trained to help now. But with realignment, that number will drop to 1,500, which will mean less manpower to fight future fires.

Public safety funding should not be based on politics but on the real world challenges facing each county. While extremely violent criminals like murderers and rapists do not qualify for realignment, thousands of other dangerous criminals have qualified and will continue to qualify for placement in our local communities. Did you know that criminals who have committed hate crimes and vehicular manslaughter while under the influence count as “low-level” under state law and thus spend time in less secure county jails?

As a mother of six children, I find these types of “low-level” crimes to be extremely troubling no matter what anyone calls them. Sadly, we have already seen new crimes committed by those who have benefited from realignment.

In January of this year, a man named Aaron Suggs was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman while burglarizing her downtown Sacramento home. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Suggs had been in and out of custody for drug-related offenses. After fully serving out his sentence in state prison, he was released on probation in Sacramento County. He was soon arrested for failing to report to his probation officer and quickly released because of realignment, where he committed his new crime.

More examples abound, which can be found at www.cacrimewatch.org. This website gives the public another view of realignment that the governor would rather not talk about.

Some will say that we can make realignment better by spending more money on it. However, the problem with realignment is not money, but the concept itself. We need to scrap realignment to put dangerous felons back in state prison where they belong and end the political budget game we are now seeing today.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Roseville, represents the 4th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which  includes Placer County.