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It’s about time for prison realignment

Posted: August 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.

It’s about time California made public safety a priority. Gov. Jerry Brown created the early release crisis back in 2011 when he unveiled his plan to relieve prison overcrowding by shifting state prison inmates to local county jails.

It is estimated that 24,000 inmates have been released or moved to county jails since the beginning of realignment in 2011, and most recently a federal court order was issued that demands an additional 9,600 inmates must be removed from state prisons by the end of the 2013 year.

This week, the governor finally came to his senses and announced he will be proposing legislation to increase prison capacity to suspend the release of inmates for the short-term.

This legislation will immediately lease in-state and out-of-state prison facilities, suspend the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco and allocate up to $315 million for implementation.

These short-term solutions will sunset after three years, so it is crucial for Sacramento leaders to continue working toward a permanent bipartisan solution to prison overcrowding.

My colleagues and I sent a letter to the governor advising possible solutions to ease the burdens of prison overcrowding. These suggestions included: repealing last year’s trailer bill that pulled back funding that would have added 13,000 in-fill beds, reactivating decommissioned cells, as well as utilizing existing contract beds.

In the governor’s latest announcement, he credited Republican efforts to come up with feasible solutions to prison overcrowding. This reinforces the need for bipartisan efforts to solve the state’s most problematic issues.

Though I am supportive of the governor’s proposal that stems the early release of prisoners by utilizing contract beds, I also find this frustrating.

When Brown started his most recent term as governor, he was equipped with the necessary funds to implement programs needed to relieve the looming prison overcrowding issue.

Brown chose to withdraw the allocated funds, which ultimately caused him to be the reason behind the prison realignment crisis.

Before this recent reign of terror caused by Brown’s realignment policy, there was hope for a safer solution to prison overcrowding.

In 2007, Assembly Bill 900 (Alejo and Nielsen) was signed into law. This bipartisan legislation would have provided funds to add 53,000 new inmate beds in two phases and to transfer 8,000 prisoners to facilities in other states.

Sadly, Sacramento leaders dragged their feet and did not fully utilize this legislation, which could have avoided prison realignment legislation.

The governor believed shifting “low level” inmates from state prisons to county jails would save money and relieve prison overcrowding. The Legislature decided to shift the weight of the state’s budget woes onto the shoulders of our local jails that are already at capacity or near.

Not only did Brown develop his own “solution,” but he also signed Senate Bill 1022 into law. This piece of legislation revoked the prison in-fill construction funds that were appropriated in Assembly Bill 900 of 2007.

In April, the effects of Brown’s realignment plan shook the community of Northridge. A 10-year old girl was kidnapped by a newly released inmate and shockingly, the kidnapper had a prior kidnapping charge along with a lengthy criminal record.

Brown claims the only inmates who are being released early are so-called “low level” offenders. It is alarming to think that child predators have fallen into this category.

Limiting the definition of “non-serious” and “non-violent” crimes will help keep these offenders from being released before they serve the proper sentence.

I want to commend Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s efforts to bring attention to this frightening plague that is striking our communities.

Supervisor Antonovich has been active in educating the public on the dangers that come with prison realignment and has worked hard to expose those who try to sweep the consequences of early release under the rug.

When it comes to the prison realignment debacle, I’m glad that Brown now understands that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

The governor continually advocated for his “plan” to save taxpayer dollars, and now he has cost taxpayer lives and property.

I am committed to working with community leaders to develop a permanent solution through bipartisan efforts to once and for all solve the challenges of prison overcrowding.

I am committed to putting safety first, and it’s about time that Sacramento feels the same way.

Scott Wilk is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and represents the Santa Clarita Valley in the state Assembly.


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