Dumped inmates to save state billions
Since state prisons began dumping inmates back on counties last fall, some people have been complaining.
The state has given counties (and some cities) hundreds of millions of dollars as compensation for housing the former state convicts and supervising their parole.
But new spending under the prison realignment plan isn’t supposed to balance out what was spent before. A main purpose of the plan was to save the state money, given that it costs more than $47,000 a year to house each inmate.
But complaints arise whenever the money doesn’t balance out in a state mandate. One was voiced recently on the blog of the Los Angeles police union, the Police Protective League, which griped there will be no jail time for a drunk woman whose car struck and killed a fireman as he rode a motorcycle near Merced. Under a sentence pronounced early this year, the driver was to begin a year’s term in a county jail in late April. Instead, she was placed in house arrest because she was classified as a low-level prison inmate who committed a “non-serious, non-violent crime” and the county had no jail space for her. Tell that to the family of her victim, suggests the police union.
The mayor of La Puente also complained. “I think more crimes are being committed,” he told a radio interviewer in January. “It’s the ‘get a year’s sentence, I’ll be out in a week thing.’ They figure ‘I’ll take my chances, it’s worth it.’”
And yet, of the 23 crimes committed in that city during a random five-day period in May, there was only one arrest for violence – an assault and battery. That rate of one violent crime every five days, reported by the Local Crime News blog, is actually below the city’s rate for 2010, long before realignment was conceived. So there is no clear evidence to support the mayor’s claims about realignment leading to more crime.
The same is true in Glendale, where police report they’ve taken $650,000 away from other projects to deal with parolees and persons on probation since the realignment program began.
“It’s essentially a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Police Chief Ron De Pompa complained to his city council.
But that phenomenon was happening before realignment anyway in many counties from Fresno to Los Angeles to Placer, where jail capacity isn’t large enough to house all convicted inmates and suspects awaiting trial. Realignment may actually alleviate some of that problem, as several counties report spending their new state money to expand jails rather than just to supervise returned prisoners.
But there is no doubt about the financial benefits of the program. State prisons have so far moved out about 22,500 inmates, creating about $1 billion in savings.
Over the next 10 years, total savings are expected to reach $30 billion as unneeded prisons are mothballed, staff are eliminated and contracts with out-of-state prisons now housing about 9,500 California convicts are phased out.
At the same time, the state aims to end overcrowding that has seen gyms and other large areas in prisons filled with bunks to house a prison population that often vastly exceeds capacity.