“The most dangerous social experiment of our generation.” That is how Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson describes the state “realignment” program to release state prisoners back to local jails and supervised community release. Faced with court-mandated requirements to reduce prison populations, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature enacted AB 109 that mandated 30,000 convicts, who would otherwise serve in state prison, be returned to local communities. In Orange County, 3,700 such convicts have been sent from the state.
Let’s acknowledge that there were some people being sent to state prison that had no business being there. But given the number and type of crimes required to earn a state prison sentence, this was a very small group. Many of those released were convicted of drug related crimes, and while we need effective court-mandated diversion for drug offenders, the problem with most drug offenders is that they steal to pay for drugs. What we do know, is that the greatest predictor for future crime, is past criminal activity. In fact, the rate of criminal recidivism for male offenders over the age of 21 is 54% in the first year and 80.6% within three years of release. In other words, the state is sending back the population most likely to commit additional crimes.
Two immediate problems with the AB 109 approach have already become apparent. First, although this program is only designed to apply to non-violent, non-serious and non-sex related offenses, this only applies to the latest offense, and does not take into account the prior crimes of the subject. Secondly, whereas before parole violators could be sent back for six months for violating the conditions of parole, under the current program they only get a 10-day “flash incarceration” at the county level and are often back on the streets in just a couple of days.
In Orange County the sheriff is doing a great job of holding violators as long as possible (mixing hardened state criminals with those doing shorter county jail time), but in other counties, we see a revolving door with dire results for crime in our communities.
In Newport Beach, we have added new police officers and taken an aggressive approach, arresting over 900 AB109, parole and probation violators. We are keeping crime down to record low levels, but in nearby communities, crime is on the rise. Fountain Valley Police Chief Daniel Llorens in a letter to the Orange County Grand Jury notes; “Since the release of AB 109 probationers we have seen …a 26% increase in commercial burglaries, 16% increase in residential burglaries, 16% increase in thefts from vehicles and a 38% increase in bicycle thefts.” Despite a well-crafted PR campaign to convince Californians this misguided experiment is working, all too many cities share Chief Llorens experience.
While local police agencies have driven crime down to record low levels, the increases since the passage of AB 109 are indeed ominous. We need to focus on the victims of crime, not the criminals. We need to provide adequate state prison facilities and alternatives so that the state can do its job of protecting California communities from recidivist criminal activity. The drop in crime in California corresponds to our increase in state incarcerations of career criminals. We cannot afford to reverse this trend. The time for social experiments is over, let’s keep our communities safe.
Keith Curry is a Newport Beach Council member and candidate for the 74th Assembly District.