L.A. County officials fear crime, costs because of jail decision
Los Angeles County officials said the Supreme Court’s refusal to block an order for the release of state prison inmates will endanger the community and stretch already strained services.
“It is inevitable that public safety will be adversely impacted by the court’s decision,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “It will exacerbate the criminal justice challenges California communities are experiencing due to the intractable crises in our prisons and local jails.”
Earlier in the day, the court rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s request to lift a federal order giving the state five months to reduce prison crowding. The order, which the state has appealed, requires the Brown administration to remove 9,600 prisoners from state lockups by the end of the year.
Brown and state lawmakers have already reduced the prison population by keeping in local jails some nonviolent offenders who would otherwise have been sent to state lockups, in a policy known as realignment.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the county has already seen spikes in crime because of realignment, and he said it would get worse if thousands of state prisoners were released. Los Angeles County, the most populous in the state, would bear the brunt of the effects, he said.
“The governor has only two choices - transfer inmates to in-state and out-of-state detention facilities through contracting, or release 9,000 dangerous felons into our communities,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer. The governor needs to stop pussyfooting and immediately utilize available detention beds.”
Antonovich said Brown had failed to make such moves to avoid upsetting the politically powerful correctional officers’ union. “He needs to put the people first and the union second,” the supervisor said.
Brown’s office referred questions to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the department, said the supervisors’ concerns were premature. In addition to continuing to appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said the state is working hard on finding alternatives to releasing thousands of inmates.
“We have no intention of doing that,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to avoid doing that.”
The state plans to maximize the use of out-of-state prisons and California fire camps, and is considering leasing beds in county jails and in-state private detention facilities, he said.
“It’s premature for anyone to be saying what exactly is going to come of this,” Callison said.
Supervisors were also concerned about the effect the releases could have on county coffers if local budgets have to bear the expense of increased law enforcement and substance abuse treatment.
The prisoners who have stayed in county custody under realignment are costing $119 per inmate per day, but the state is only reimbursing 65% of the cost, Antonovich said.
Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas vowed to press the state to pay for additional costs resulting from the releases.
“The state has to be fair about that in terms of allocation of resources and not assume that local government can or should foot the bill from a problem not of their own making,” he said.
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