Prison realignment sparks crime spree

by CalWatchdog Staff | January 3, 2013 9:10 am

prison - California - CDC[1]Jan. 3, 2013

By Troy Anderson

In the early morning hours of Dec. 2, 2012, four people were found brutally shot and killed just outside an unlicensed boarding home in Northridge.

Not long afterward, four suspects allegedly involved in the crime were arrested [2]at the Silverton Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, according to a Los Angeles Police Department statement.

The primary suspect was Los Angeles resident Ka Pasasouk, 31, who was under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, according to a motion Los Angeles County supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky filed on Dec. 11 requesting a comprehensive report on the case.  Pasasouk, according to the LAPD, was charged with murder.

“Pasasouk is one of over 11,000 post-released supervised persons currently under the supervision of the Probation Department pursuant to [Gov. Jerry Brown’s] Public Safety Realignment program — AB 109,” Antonovich and Yaroslavsky wrote[3]. “Absent AB 109[4], Pasasouk would have been the responsibility of the state and under the supervision of a parole officer instead of being the responsibility of the county and under the supervision of a probation officer. Counties across the state have been grappling with the enormous burden shifted to them under AB 109 since it took effect on October 1, 2011.”

Pasasouk, the supervisors wrote, “has a long criminal history, including robbery and drug-related offenses.”

“AB 109 was supposed to shift ‘low level’ offenders to counties; in reality, it shifts high and ultra-high risk offenders because it ignores the offender’s prior criminal history, including serious and violent offenses, and only considers the last offense,” Antonovich and Yaroslavsky wrote. “It has been reported that Pasasouk repeatedly failed to comply with the terms and conditions of his release, resisted rehabilitative programs, and was arrested multiple times over the past 11 months.”

Criminals freed

Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, says Pasasouk is one of many potentially dangerous criminals freed as a result of AB 109[4] — the law Brown signed in April 2011 to “stop the costly, ineffective and unsafe ‘revolving door’ of lower-level offenders and parole violators through our state prisons.”

“[Pasasouk] was a realignment baby,” Rushford says. “A 46-year-old mother was stabbed to death in Fresno in September by a guy free because the state will no longer take people to prison for violating parole. I can go on and on with the anecdotes. Local law enforcement officials are reporting the crime increases in the double-digits, but the official numbers won’t come out until this summer.”

Dumped on counties

Former state Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, says AB 109 “dumped the state’s criminal justice problems on our counties and cities and has unleashed an unprecedented crime wave.”

In response, Nielsen, who expects to be elected to the state Senate following a runoff election in January, says he plans to introduce legislation next year to correct problems created by realignment.

“There are a number of problems undergirding AB 109 that have to be addressed and corrected,” says Nielsen, the longtime chairman of the California Board of Prison Terms. “That’s why we anticipate legislation or an initiative will be necessary to correct this tragic course that is occurring in public safety in California.”

It’s now been more than a year since AB 109, a bill Brown described as a “landmark law that realigns certain responsibilities for lower-level offenders and parolees from state to local jurisdictions,” went into effect on Oct. 1, 2011. Shortly before that time, Brown issued a statement saying the law would give local law enforcement “the tools to manage offenders in smarter and cost-effective ways. AB 109 will help reduce recidivism, ease prison overcrowding and save taxpayers’ dollars.”

The law followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce its prison population from 143,000 to 110,000 inmates by 2013. Realignment provides for a reduction in the state prison population over time.

Population reductions

“The whole point behind realignment is to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court-affirmed population reductions in California’s 33 prisons,” says Dana Simas, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “The U.S. Supreme Court said we have to get down to 137.5 percent of our designed capacity, which is approximately 110,000 inmates.

“If we don’t do that by the court-ordered date of June 2013, then the court can order the wholesale, early unsupervised release of state prisoners.  That means anyone due for release in a specified amount of time is free to go. There is no supervision, no follow-up. We won’t know where these people are. They will get out of prison early. That is what is facing California if we don’t follow this court order.”

The law, according to a recent report[5] by the Public Policy Institute of California, redirected 30,000 recently convicted offenders who would have gone to state prison to county jail, shifted the after-prison supervision of about 50,000 offenders from state parole agents to county probation departments and revised procedures dealing with sentencing, good-time credits and parole.

“Altogether, these changes represent the most significant shift in California corrections policy in decades,” author Dean Misczynski wrote. “Proponents of realignment believe that counties can achieve higher levels of offender rehabilitation, correspondingly lower levels of recidivism, and less (or at least not more) crime — and all for a lower cost than accomplished by the state.”

However, the law has generated a great deal of controversy. While some officials have touted it as a great success, others have warned “the streets are going to run with blood” as a result.


The law, according to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, requires that some felons released from prison be placed on post-release community supervision rather than state-managed parole. The law also prevents habitual criminals convicted of new felonies such as assault, auto theft, drug dealing, identity theft, fraud and commercial burglary from receiving prison sentences, instead requiring that they receive sentences in overcrowded county jails, probation or “treatment” in county-managed rehabilitation programs, according to CJLF.

Law enforcement officials throughout the state have expressed concerns that counties don’t have the jail capacity or the resources to house or supervise the thousands of repeat felons they are now required to deal with, according to the CJLF.

“It’s still too early to really see what realignment is going to do, although we certainly are seeing increases in crime because people who would have been incarcerated previously are not in custody because the county jails don’t have room for all the types of people who can go to county jails — whether it’s pre-conviction or post-conviction,” says Scott Thorpe, the chief executive officer of the California District Attorneys Association.

But Simas claims critics of Realignment are misconstruing how it works.

“Well, first off, there is no one being released under realignment that would have been released anyway,” Simas says. “CDCR can’t hold anyone past their court-ordered release date. So there are no early releases.  The biggest fallacy is that there is this notion that people are out in the community that should have been behind bars. No one has been released early because of realignment. The only difference is who is supervising them. If they are serving a term for a nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offense, then they report to county probation for their post-release community supervision.”

$1.3 billion saved

In a June report [6]examining the first eight months of realignment, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found a 41 percent reduction in new prison admissions and a drop of 28,300 in the prison population, which stood at more than 144,000 prior to realignment. At an average cost of $46,000 to imprison one inmate for a year, the authors wrote the decline in the prison population should reduce prison costs by more than $1.3 billion.

“Overall, the state prison population is declining according to expected projections,” the authors of the CJCJ report wrote. “Generally, counties that have historically over-relied on state prison are experiencing larger reductions in their imprisoned populations and new commitments to state prison.

“In addition, it appears the reductions are occurring specifically within the low-level offender categories, rather than the more violent, serious offenders, which alleviates many public safety concerns. The decreased reliance on state incarceration should also produce significant cost savings for California taxpayers.”

Despite these savings, officials throughout the state are expressing growing concerns about Realignment’s impact on crime rates.

In its recent report,  “Corrections Realignment: One Year Later,” the PPIC report wrote that preliminary data indicates some communities around the state are experiencing an increase in property crime, particularly burglary and motor vehicle theft.

“Unfortunately, the cause and effect relationships within these communities are confounded by a prolonged recession and severe budget cuts to local law enforcement and social service programs,” according to the PPIC report. “Crime rates and realignment need to be closely monitored and carefully analyzed.”

Matt Cate, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, notes crime rates are up nationwide.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics[7] reported in October that violent crime rose 18 percent last year — the first year-to-year increase in nearly two decades — and the number of property crimes also jumped by 11 percent.

“California crime numbers have not come in yet,” Cate said. “But no criminologist worth his or her salt will be able to tell you whether realignment has a cause and effect relationship with crime going up or down. It’s very complicated. It’s really difficult to correlate crime rates with a change in certain policies.”

One year later

In a December report by the CJCJ, “One Year into Realignment: Progress Stalls, Stronger Incentives Needed[8],” author Mike Males noted that, while “some law enforcement and prison interests have cited anecdotes and selective local offenses to charge that managing tens of thousands of formerly imprisoned criminals at the local level has brought a new wave of violent crime … the latest statistics reveal no evidence of such a trend.

“New prison admissions for violent and other sex and serious offenses — which are still allowed under realignment’s guidelines as in the past — were actually slightly lower in the 3rd quarter of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. In particular, new imprisonments for murder, robbery, rape, and most sex offenses showed modest declines from the 1st to the 3rd quarters of 2012, while assaults showed slight increases ….”

In a prepared statement, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich says recent data from the county’s Probation Department revealed that the state is releasing mentally disordered offenders to the counties — threatening public safety and adding to the county’s fiscal burden.

The state, Antonovich says, is decertifying mentally-disordered offenders just prior to release from prison to place them under local supervision instead of state supervision. In addition, several mentally-disordered offenders that were released from prison directly to a state hospital were later decertified by the state hospital and, again, shifted to local supervision instead of remaining on state supervision.

By decertifying mentally-disordered offenders prior to release from prison, who are ineligible for local supervision by county probation departments under Realignment, Antonovich says the state is effectively relieving itself from the obligation to supervise them.

“We see this as a significant concern because mentally-disordered offenders have to meet certain criteria to be certified as such, one of which is to have a severe mental illness,” says Anna Pembedjian, Antonovich’s justice deputy.

“These types of individuals require intensive care and supervision and they require a lot of resources. So this is a significant concern, which our board will discuss publicly in the coming weeks and potentially seek necessary legislative changes to prevent it from happening.”

New legislation

To address these and other issues, Rushford says Nielsen and other lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation in 2013.

“I know there is a move afoot to demand a repeal of the bill,” Rushford says. “There are groups around the state who are working on reforms. We have put together a working group. The idea is to repeal the measure and replace it with something that makes public safety a priority.”

But Rushford doesn’t expect quick legislative action given that Democrats now control two-thirds of the seats in both the Senate and the Assembly.

“This is going to be an issue for a long time,” Rushford says. “The state is broke and we really can’t take these guys back unless we spend more money on prisons. We are going to go forward with the $6 billion bullet train and we don’t have space in our prisons. They are going to have to drop other priorities and put this one back on top or, as former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley says: ‘The streets are going to run with blood.’

“When this first started — when I first heard about this bill running through the Legislature, I called Cooley. He said: ‘You won’t be able to stop them.’ He said, ‘It will be like it was back in the 70s. There is going to have to be so much crime that the public insists on a new policy.’ I don’t want it to get that bad again. I was around during that period and the train is running in that direction now.”

  1. [Image]:
  2. were arrested :,mod=10&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  3. Antonovich and Yaroslavsky wrote:
  4. AB 109:
  5. a recent report:
  6. In a June report : http://Center%20on%20Juvenile%20and%20Criminal%20Justice
  7. Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://Bureau%20of%20Justice%20Statistics
  8. One Year into Realignment: Progress Stalls, Stronger Incentives Needed:

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