A recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee by former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg’s concluded that AB 109 “prisoner realignment” has worked – a clear demonstration of just how far out of touch Capital politicians have become.
It’s a fairly typical response from the State: duck problems until they reach catastrophic levels, then use gimmicks to hide from the problem for a few more years, then shift the problem to future generations or local government to solve. This is usually followed by legislation on appropriate jail attire and creation of a new regulatory bureaucracy on how to prepare hotdogs.
Guess what Jackie? Realignment not a solution – it’s disgraceful. It’s no wonder the public holds the Legislature in such low esteem.
First, let’s be honest about what AB 109 was: it was not “an attempt to overhaul and redirect the prison system.” It was an admission that the state failed in its responsibility to manage prisons, and lacking the political guts to make any real changes, passed the buck to County government.
The former Assemblywoman has the audacity to call that success. Perhaps by Legislative standards it is – they were able to get a budget passed, get paid their per diem, host a quick PAC fundraiser and make it home in time for a Donaghy/Laker game.
Second, Goldberg is absolutely wrong about the fiscal effects: re-alignment has had a massive financial impact on county governments, who are having tens of thousands of prisoners – some of them violent – thrust on their already over-taxed resources.
It is not much of a surprise that a former Legislative leader has so little an understand of fiscal impact – just look at how well they’ve managed our university systems and state-wide infrastructure.
Let’s be clear: the State didn’t “realign” anything, they skipped out on one of their primary responsibilities, and are forcing counties to bail the state out (again). The State has failed to provide long-term revenue to pay for increased costs to county corrections or probation. Even in the short term, estimates are the state is paying for 60% of the cost – after that there is no guarantee of funding, only of more prisoners.
Finally, Goldberg attempts to paint a rainbow and unicorns picture with the false claim that crime is down, despite the utter lack of any reliable statistics to support the claim. Crime has fallen in California over the past decade – as a result of tough sentencing laws like 3-Strikes. Reliable crime statistics aren’t available to evaluate the impact of AB 109/realignment, but common sense tells us that if more criminals are loose on the street, more crimes will be committed.
It is also a myth that realignment doesn’t release any violent felons – it does. There is a fairly complicated – some call it stupid – criteria that focuses on the most recent sentence, often ignoring a long history of violence. It allows meth dealers avoid state prison – unless they sold meth in a park (apparently, it’s OK to sell in schools). Sex offenders who are currently in prison for subsequent burglary would be eligible. Likewise, brutal child abusers other felons will be able to avoid jail time altogether. In the short time Realignment has been in effect, we’ve seen the consequences of early release: numerous crimes have been committed by released prisoners, including rape, attempted murder and selling drugs to children.
Realignment may ultimately result in better system – even with insufficient funding it is hard to imagine Counties screwing up worse than the Legislature. But let’s not pretend this is anything other than the state skipping out on its responsibilities to save a buck and while Legislators avoid making tough decisions.
It’s a symptom of a more pervasive ailment – the fundamental failure of the Legislature to deal with any real problems, relying instead on a steady diet of gimmicks to avoid making tough decisions. Goldberg wants to cheerlead such a culture – after all, it is the rest of us who will pay the price.