L.A. County plans push for more state prison realignment money

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies inspect a cell block at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. County jails hold about 6,000 inmates who would have gone to state prison prior to realignment.
(Reed Saxon)

Los Angeles County officials agreed Tuesday to step up lobbying of the Legislature for more money to jail and care for lower-level felons who became the responsibility of counties under state prison realignment.

The law, implemented two years ago, was intended to reduce state prison populations. But it also has ended up saving the state a substantial amount of money, county Chief Executive William T Fujioka said.

Next year, according to state projections, Fujioka said, California will save $2.68 billion as a result of realignment, and will give $950 million to counties to help them implement the program, realizing a net savings of $1.73 billion.

“I don’t believe this program should have saved money for the state,” he said. “They shifted a population to us. At the same time they should have shifted appropriate funding to us.”


The county’s Board of Supervisors voted to send the governor and legislative leaders a letter requesting more money. And they hope to encourage other counties to join in the push.

Over the last two years, 18,392 state prisoners have been released to the supervision of Los Angeles County’s probation department instead of state parole, according to a two-year status report on realignment given to the board Tuesday.

The department currently has a case load of about 10,000 former state prisoners, nearly 20% of whom have absconded from supervision and have warrants out for their arrest.

A substantial number of the former state inmates -- about 4,000 -- have been assessed as needing mental health or substance abuse treatment, and about 1,000 are homeless, according to the report.


A random sampling of 500 offenders released from prison to Los Angeles County in July 2012 found that 60% of them returned to jail in the next year, either on a new offense -- a so-called “flash incarceration” jail stint of 10 days or less imposed for violating probation -- or after having their probation revoked.

The county’s overcrowded jails also have a consistent population of about 6,000 inmates who would previously have been sentenced to state prison, leading to more early releases of other inmates to save space.

Some advocates criticized county officials for complaining about the lack of resources without having fully explored options like increasing the pretrial release of offenders on electronic monitoring.

“Realignment imposed burdens but it also imposed opportunities for the county to take advantage of,” said Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. “The county seems to like to complain but not to take advantage of the opportunities.”



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