California lawmakers rejected proposals Tuesday to give state parole officers greater authority over released inmates now being watched by counties, legislation aimed at relieving probation departments that say they are ill prepared for their new caseload.
The bills in the Assembly Public Safety Committee responded to a 2011 law that gave counties responsibility to supervise and incarcerate lower-level offenders who previously fell under state authority. State leaders approved the realignment plan to address a federal prison overcrowding lawsuit and state budget problems.
Law enforcement groups said the change has left county probation departments watching a more sophisticated population at the same time that they have weathered staff cuts due to local budget woes. The groups suggested that a potentially dangerous group of former offenders lacks sufficient supervision.
Under realignment, the severity of a parolee’s last conviction determines whether the state or a county will have supervision. Assembly Bill 1449 by Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez would have placed under parole individuals released from prison with a serious prior conviction at any point in his or her history.
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AB 1449 had the support of the California Police Chiefs Association, the California District Attorneys Association and other law enforcement organizations. It was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Public Defenders Association and other groups, which said the changes would mark a shift away from local rehabilitation promised by realignment.
Similarly, AB 1901 by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, would have allowed judges to determine whether a parolee should be placed under state or county supervision.
Both Murasuchi and Pérez cited a report last year by Stanford Law School professor Joan Petersilia, who found that “probation officers, already facing increasing caseloads, are ill equipped to manage such serious and sophisticated caseloads.” The report recommends changes such as those proposed Tuesday.
But the Assembly Public Safety Committee rejected both bills. Committee chair Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said realignment will need some changes, but proposals such as the one by Pérez go too far because moving supervision into communities is a fundamental premise of the 2011 law.
“You’re going to destroy the village trying to save it,” Ammiano told Pérez.
A spokeswoman for Pérez said he will introduce the language of AB 1449 into another bill he has pending in the Senate.
Although law enforcement officials across the state have complained about realignment, Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democratic leaders in control of the Legislature remain committed to it. Realignment remains the cornerstone of Brown’s plans to reduce the prison population and meet the requirements set by a three-judge panel overseeing the federal court case.
“While this change has led to a bigger caseload for local agencies, it’s important to remember that realignment also included substantial financial support for the counties, including probation departments. Financial support this year exceeds $1 billion,” said Joe Orlando, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “CDCR has great confidence in all of its criminal justice system partners, including probation departments.”
The Assembly committee approved two bills that were relatively minor in comparison.
It passed AB 2373, which would require county supervisors to report to chief probation officers and Superior Court judges whether they have the resources needed to carry out mandated probation responsibilities. Paul Brennan of the State Coalition of Probation Departments said realignment has increased workloads, and counties therefore need to fully fund the departments’ mandates “or justify their failure to do so.”
Greg Stuber, president of the Sacramento County Probation Association, said realignment has hit county probation officers hard, especially since the department lost about 30 percent of its staff in the years leading up to its implementation. Every year, the chief probation officer reports the funding need to county supervisors, “yet we receive no response,” he said.
County spokeswoman Chris Andis said, “There is no requirement for the Board of Supervisors to answer the letter in writing. However, the Board of Supervisors, the CEO and the probation chief work closely together on budgeting issues in order to meet Probation’s legal mandates.”
Finally, the public safety committee approved AB 2314, which would require chief probation officers to write policies about carrying guns. Since realignment, the number of departments carrying guns has gone up from 44 to 55, said Karen Pank of the Chief Probation Officers of California, which opposed the measure on grounds that such decisions should be left up to counties.
Realignment has made probation officers’ work more dangerous, said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Isadore Hall III, D-Los Angeles. The bill would give probation officers the ability to protect themselves and the public, he said.