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Republicans push to roll back realignment, expand prisons

Inmates are moved at the Los Angeles County Jail
Inmates are moved at the Los Angeles County Jail
Courtesy Los Angeles County

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Republican state lawmakers are pushing more than a dozen bills to roll back realignment in California. The law, enacted in 2011 to comply with a court order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, sends certain low-level felons to county jails instead of state prison. But many Republicans claim that realignment is wreaking havoc on the streets.  KPCC's Julie Small reports.

At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, Diana Muñoz pushed her daughter’s wheelchair into view of a half-dozen TV cameras. 

Last year, Brandy Arreola’s ex-boyfriend beat her into a coma. San Joaquin County sheriffs released him just two days into his 100-day jail sentence for violating parole because they needed to free up space in the crowded jail.   

“This wouldn’t have happened to her if he’d still been behind bars,” said Muñoz, who urged lawmakers to repeal a California law that sends low-level felons to county jails instead of state prison.

The legislature enacted realignment in 2011 to comply with a court order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. Before California enacted the law, Arreola’s attacker would have been returned to state prison for up to a year for violating parole. 

Now, parole violators go to local jails for a maximum of 180 days. But overcrowding in those facilities means some are getting off with less time, or no time at all. 

Assembly Minority leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) called the situation a mess.

“Now, you have local government stuck with prisoners and the inability to handle them in a way that’s appropriate,”  she said. “And many of them are being turned loose.”

The changes Republicans propose would result in thousands more state prisoners each year. The changes would send some parole violators back to state prison, including sex offenders who cut off GPS monitoring devices and any felon caught illegally purchasing or possessing guns. 

Republicans also want felons convicted of sentences longer than three years sent to state lockups and to limit county liability for overcrowding caused by realignment.  That’s to deal with a growing number of inmates starting to sue local jails for lack of medical and mental health care.   

Attorney Don Spector filed the most recent complaint on Monday for inmates in Riverside County.

“They’ve been complaining about injuries that they haven’t been receiving care for a long time,”  Spector said.

Spector is with the Prison Law Office, the firm that sued to cap California’s prison population because overcrowding prevented inmates from getting adequate medical and mental health care.  He says “realignment” just shifted the state's problems to county jails.

Republican lawmakers said California should have stuck to a multi-billion, bi-partisan plan to expand the prisons. They admitted their bills offer only a partial fix for realignment. They’d like to see the Governor call a special session to reform the law — or scrap it altogether.