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Thursday, Mar 21 2013 11:00 PM

JEAN FULLER: Two solutions to the mess left behind by prison realignment

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    Jean Fuller

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Recent reports indicate that a large number of state parolees are removing the GPS monitors that track their whereabouts. These criminals slip back into our communities unsupervised. This is unacceptable.

In October 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment policy began shifting the responsibility of incarcerating some criminals from state prisons to county jails. This policy was the result of a court order to reduce the overcrowding in state prisons.

The program resulted in the early release of criminals from overcrowded county jails back onto the streets of our neighborhoods. The policy also meant that state parole violators would be sent to county jails instead of returning them to state prisons.

This disgusting policy has led to significant costs to the safety of our families and communities. An initial FBI report suggested that over a six-month period from 2011 to 2012, when realignment was being implemented, crime rose in California. During this period, crimes including murder and rape increased by nearly 8 percent. Crimes including burglaries and car thefts increased by nearly 13 percent. Comparatively, national and other state crime rates decreased or remained relatively flat.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Nearly 3,400 arrest warrants were issued in California for parolees, most of them sex offenders, who tampered with their GPS monitoring devices. Parolees who disable their tracking devices have bet that local jails are too full to take them back. Unfortunately, in many counties up and down the state, they are winning that bet. And reports indicate that the number of paroled sex offenders in the state unaccounted for and who remain fugitives is 15 percent higher today. That is a disturbing trend.

Here in Kern County, the results are more alarming. The number of sex offender fugitives is 30 percent higher today. And early this year, the Kern County District Attorney's Office said this policy resulted in a thousand more felony cases representing a 15 percent increase in crime.

It reflects poorly on the governor and many in the Legislature who support expensive and questionable projects like high-speed rail when they fail to properly address some of the most basic responsibilities of government, including public safety.

Like many of my like-minded colleagues, I thought this policy was wrong when it was first proposed. And the evidence clearly proves that this policy is wrong today. Now, the consequences of this policy are present in our communities and neighborhoods.

I'm proud to say that I've agreed to co-author two bills this year that should address this problem: SB 144 and SB 225.

SB 144, the Realignment Reinvestment Act, would provide additional funding for front-line law enforcement, jail operations, community supervision and treatment services. The allocation of these additional funds is directly linked to the number of "realigned" offenders in each county.

SB 225 would ensure that felons sentenced to more than three years behind bars would serve their time in state prisons instead of overcrowded county jails, where the likelihood of early release is much higher.

Public safety should not be addressed with bureaucratic maneuvers. The Legislature must pass these bills and the governor should sign them. But that's only a small step toward dealing with a failed experiment.

If the realignment policy was the governor's solution to overcrowded prisons, then the increase in crime and more fugitive sex offenders tell us that another solution is sorely needed. Our children and communities demand it.

Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, represents the 18th State Senate District. Community Voices is an expanded commentary. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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