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Commentary: Realignment is not good for communities

April 14, 2014|By Keith Curry

"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 to local jails and supervised community release. Faced with court-mandated requirements to reduce prison populations, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 109, which mandated that 30,000 convicts who would otherwise serve in state prison be returned to local communities.

The state has sent 3,700 such convicts to Orange County.

Let's acknowledge that some people sent to state prison 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.

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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 age 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 designed to apply to non-violent, non-serious and non-sex-related offenses, this applies only to a person's latest offense and does not take into account his prior crimes.

Second, whereas before parole violators could be sent back for six months for violating the conditions of parole, under the current program they get only 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 our communities.

In Newport Beach, we have added police officers and taken an aggressive approach, arresting more than 900 AB109 parole and probation violators. We are keeping crime down to record lows, but in nearby communities, crime is on the rise.

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