Abel Maldonado Wildly Misses Mark in His Criticism of the Prison Realignment Policy
by Brian Leubitz
By any estimation, Governor Brown is in a tough spot politically and managerially with the issues surrounding the prisons. As Attorney General, he fought the federal courts on capacity and healthcare standards. As Governor, he's been forced to actually implement the reduction of population by those judges. And he's been fighting it all the way.
But, in realignment, he probably struck on the path of least resistance to state prison population. It allows a significant reduction in population without actually setting all of the prisoners free. But that's not what Abel Maldonado sees.
Maldonado, flanked by Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren and Erin Runnion, whose daughter Samantha was kidnapped and murdered in a high-publicized 2002 crime, argued in favor of an as-yet-unwritten ballot measure that would repeal A.B. 109, the law creating the state's realignment policy, which Maldonado referred to as "early release."
"The legislature and more importantly, the governor, won't fix early release," said Maldonado, a former lieutenant governor and legislator who represented communities in Santa Barbara County.(Daily Bulletin)
Abel Maldonado simply sees it as "early release" and plans on running some sort of initiative to address the issue. How it will address the issue while maintaining compliance with the federal rulings is anybody's guess. It's hard to see the ToughOnCrime act to be anything other than posturing for the 2014 race for governor. And he's searching for Willie Horton. Desperately. Calitics diarist smoker1 pointed that out last week.
This week, Abel Maldonado held a news conference announcing a statewide effort to repeal the realignment program. Proof of the dangers of realignment: the heinous murder of Mary Beth Blaskey. Jerome Anthony Rogers has been arrested and charged with the murder. Rogers, 57, has a lengthy criminal record, but was last in prison in 2003.
Got it? The last time he was in prison was 2003 and Maldonado is using this case as an example of how realignment is failing. Realignment came last year, not 10 years ago. Why would Maldonado use a case that has nothing to do with realignment to promote an effort to repeal realignment? Because there is no such case within the realignment universe.
The thing about the California prison system is that there is a lot of shades of gray. Way more than 50, it turns out. There are some hardened criminals, some murderers, some rapists and the like, that will probably never be rehabilitated to the point that we'll want them on the streets. However, the total number in that category are a minuscule portion of an enormous system. The recidivism rate in our system was hovering around 70% for a while, dipping down to 65% in 2012. But considering that the national level is below 45%, there is still a ways to go.
But much of that increased rate is about parole violations. Increasing parole flexibility and working with former prisoners to increase the percentage of better outcomes could go a long way to reducing some of that recidivism. Some of that has already been happening in a few counties, but there is a lot more work to be done.
Realignment itself laid a heavy burden on counties, and this is where the changes haven't really been as successful as we would like. They were supposed to get reimbursed for much of that burden, and while they will see additional revenues from the state to pay for the increased expenditures, it seems unlikely that they will ever be made truly whole. However, Brown knows what he's doing. Counties should be held more directly responsible for the prison population. Allowing prosecutors to simply lock away a criminal and forget about them has a perverse effect on the extreme overcapacity at state prisons.
The entire law enforcement community has begun a process of working to improve efficiency. As prisons have passed higher education spending, this is a conversation long overdue. But these changes can't come overnight. But we can't allow our prison budget to overwhelm the general fund, and we can't build our way out of the prison crisis. We need to reduce the prison population, and that is done through hard work, funding education, including Brown's effort to increase resources for disadvantaged students, and reducing the population of reoffenders.
Maldonado wants to simply revert back to the failed ToughOnCrime policies because that just might be an issue that scares voters. It's simplistic and cynical.