Steve McQueen spent several years growing up in my 55th District. He spent two years at Boys Republic in Chino Hills and said numerous times that his experiences allowed him to grow and mature into a man. Little did he know that his 1963 hit movie, “The Great Escape”, would predict our state’s future. California has embarked on a risky public safety experiment that is showing signs of failure, but it is not too late to correct our course if we acknowledge those setbacks. If we fail to do so, this failure will almost surely become a more devastating catastrophe and cost more lives.
During my time at the State Capitol, my colleagues and I have weighed in on thousands of issues, but one of the most important has been Governor Jerry Brown’s flawed public safety realignment law, or what I like to call his dangerous “felon release” law known as AB 109. The Governor described the law as an “historic accomplishment” for our state, but it would be more accurate to call it an “historic disaster” as it has shifted thousands of low-level criminal offenders to already overcrowded local jails, resulting in the early release of thousands of felons. On April 30, my fellow Republicans and I sent a letter to Governor Brown urging him to stop further releases of dangerous criminals since he is again considering releasing more of them upon our city streets.
The initial statistics and anecdotal evidence in the months following realignment’s implementation in October 2011 shows that realignment is a serious problem for our state. According to FBI statistics relating to larger cities, in the first half of 2012, California saw incidents of murder rise nearly 8%, rape nearly 8%, burglary over 10%, and vehicle theft 11 %. These increases mark a disturbing turning point after years of consistent low crime rates in California.
As local police and sheriff departments deal with an influx of criminals into their custody, they have been forced to make the difficult decision of releasing so-called “non-serious” offenders into our communities after little more than a slap on the wrist. For Californians, it has meant having to deal with offenders who, upon their return to society, have been arrested for violent crimes. I am concerned it may be just the tip of the iceberg as the non-violent classification is only based upon the most recent crime and prior violent arrests cannot be considered when releasing an inmate back into our community.
As these sobering reports mount, we have a public safety problem on our hands that needs to be addressed. A growing number of Democrats and even the Governor now concede that some components of the law have to change. For example, under realignment, felons convicted of child abandonment, manufacturing controlled substances, and hate crimes are considered “non-serious” and “non-violent” meaning these offenders can serve their sentence in county jails. The problem, however, is that overcrowding may force local officials to grant these individuals early release.
That is why I support reforms such as Assembly Bill 1321 to re-classify “serious” or “violent” crimes. By doing so, we can ensure these “AB 109er” criminals, who should serve time in prison, actually go to prison. AB 1321 is just one of several narrowly crafted Republican proposals designed to address public safety concerns caused by realignment. Another reform I support is Assembly Bill 2, which would send back to state prison sex offenders who violate their parole by failing to register as a sex offender. This bill has failed in the public safety committee on its first vote.
Other reforms include returning to prison criminals who disable their GPS tracking devices, requiring sex offender parolees to be supervised by the state, and tying state funding for realignment expenses at the local level to the number of “realigned” offenders in each county.
While these changes will not fix everything, these are common-sense solutions that will at least alleviate some of the pressure felt by local authorities since the law’s adoption.