Mayor Villaraigosa: You're not helping
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several other Los Angeles leaders became the latest folks Monday to demonstrate either that they don't understand how AB 109 public safety realignment works, or that they do but they're only too happy to scare the public into believing hordes of new criminals are coming to town if it suits their political purposes.
"Through the Public Safety Realignment Act, Sacramento is transferring more than 4,200 offenders to L.A., and not a single dollar to help with the burden," Villaraigosa said in a statement delivered at a morning news conference. Elsewhere in the statement, he referred to the "transfer of prisoners to cities."
No, Mr. Mayor. That's fear-mongering, and it's false. No inmates are being transferred to cities.
State inmates who are released on parole already come back to their home communities. For a third to a half of all such inmates, home has always meant Los Angeles County. Some of those parolees/probationers always caused problems when they got here and have become an additional burden on law enforcement. Some have always become part of the homeless population. They still will. There is nothing new here. They're not coming any faster than they did before.
The change wrought by AB 109 is that instead of reporting to state parole agents, these released offenders will begin to report to county probation officers. Same number of offenders, same rate, same flow, same communities. They just call a different number or check in at a different office.
Newly convicted felons (although not those convicted of committing serious, sexual or violent crimes) will now go to county jails instead of state prisons. Maybe they'll now be housed at Castaic (county) instead of Lancaster (state). So? Is that what the mayor means by "transferring more than 4,200 offenders to L.A."?
If the mayor really wanted to come clean on the nature of the problem, he'd note that there is in fact some serious concern that Sheriff Lee Baca's now-empty jails in Castaic and elsewhere may eventually fill up, and that county officials might make mistakes about who can be released with an ankle bracelet, to make room, and who must be kept behind bars. But that's hardly the same thing as saying current prisoners are being transferred to cities.
As for Sacramento (as if it were some outside entity, and not part of a continuum that includes City Hall and county government) failing to send any money, that's also completely untrue. If he were being straightforward, Villaraigosa would have acknowledged that there is in fact money coming with the probationers and new prisoners -- nine months' worth of it. The state budget calls for the pot of funds to be replenished each fiscal year, but county leaders correctly demand something more solid -- a constitutional guarantee. Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to put one on the November 2012 presidential ballot.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck wants to put 150 cops on a special detail to handle realignment problems -- but, importantly, not because we're getting a new influx of criminals (again, same number of parolees as always, coming to the same place as always, at the same pace as always) but because Los Angeles County government may be simply too much of a mess to handle the job the right way. The county recently fired hundreds of probation officers while hiring hundreds more. The Board of Supervisors reportedly fired the chief probation officer. But that says more about the house of horrors that is Los Angeles County government than it does about realignment. Other counties appear to be up to their new tasks.
Brown and state lawmakers knew that it would cost counties far less to house prisoners and supervise probationers than it costs the state, in large part because of inflated state contracts with the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. They added up county costs of supervising probationers and housing inmates and saw that they could save money by sending that same amount -- plus a bit more -- to the counties along with the new responsibilities. That's what they're doing. City leaders had the same head-start on preparing for realignment as counties did, but they seem to have just discovered it today.
The real failure of realignment comes from the unsubstantiated belief that counties are better suited and more motivated than the state to provide rehabilitation programs. They aren't. Probationers and others released from prison and jail will face the same thing here they always have -- virtually nothing: no jobs, no training, no housing, no counseling, no drug treatment -- nothing to prepare them for life of freedom and responsibility. In short, we're prepared to fail them the same way we've been failing them for years, only now we will be doing it with local government instead of state government.
Instead of complaining, again, that Sacramento has "balanced its budget on the backs of cities," Villaraigosa ought to be clamoring for smarter spending on the county level and offer some participation from his own city government in programs that ease reentry from prison life to their communities.
Credit: Steve Yeater / Associated Press