Being a public official, I believe it is my responsibility to advocate for the best policies for the people of California. As the vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I know firsthand that there are always tough choices when it comes to making budget decisions during state budget negotiations, which are often the result of bipartisan compromise.
In my view, Californians shouldn’t have to live in fear in their own homes and communities because the state is facing budget problems. When it comes to the Public Safety Realignment, passed by the majority party in Assembly Bill 109, I would not be a party to a reckless proposal that may lead to victimization of hundreds of thousands of our families and neighbors.
Democrats who supported this inmate release plan, which took effect Oct. 1, claim that it will save the state money since we will be moving the responsibility for dangerous criminals out of prisons funded by the state and into locally funded facilities. In reality, realignment is permanently dumping what are now rightly state responsibilities and mandates onto the backs of local government and taxpayers, based on the hollow promises of stable funding. In my opinion, realignment is really first about shifting the burden and then telling local governments to raise local taxes to fund the release of thousands of serious criminals from state-run facilities. There’s a bill in process to do just that.
While realignment’s supporters would like you to believe that only petty thieves will be affected, the simple fact is that criminals with more serious records are now being sent to overcrowded county jails rather than state prisons. Many will only serve a fraction of their sentences, while others will be granted early release to make room for the influx of state felons coming into our communities.
With very limited space available in county jails, tens of thousands of un-rehabilitated felons and parolees will likely go unsupervised in our communities prior to serving their full sentence and justice being served. Furthermore, they will face diminished to no consequences for continuing their victimization of society.
Over the years I served as the head of the Prison Board, I had the chance to witness tens of thousands of dangerous individuals whose crimes have left scars in the lives of many innocent people. Many of them have had the opportunity to change their ways through various rehabilitation programs. Believe me, I would be happy to report that many if not most have had a change of heart and have changed their ways. But in reality, very few make the decision to change and to stop being a threat to those around them.
In pushing his dangerous realignment scheme, perhaps the governor is fulfilling what he wanted to do when he was first in office 35 years ago. Back then, he signed the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Law to show leniency to thousands of criminals under the misguided notion that they are victims of societal problems beyond their control. Ironically enough, an attitude like this does not serve those who have broken the law. It is not by making up excuses for them that people will summon the courage to change a harmful behavioral pattern. As a society, it does not serve us well to justify and to condone deviant behavior as AB 109 aims to do.
The realignment plan is dangerous for our public safety. The only way to improve it is to repeal it, which I have urged the Governor repeatedly. I pray that future crimes caused by prisoners who benefited from realignment will not be the catalyst that finally forces him to change his mind.
Assemblymember Jim Nielsen represents the Second California State Assembly District.