Dan Walters

Dan Walters: New crimes could undermine California’s ‘realignment’

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

So far, about 40,000 felons have been affected by California’s “realignment” program, which is aimed at reducing overcrowding in prisons in accordance with federal court orders without, it’s said, releasing dangerous criminals to prey upon the public.

Newly convicted offenders deemed to be nonthreatening have been diverted into local jails and probation, while parolees meeting similar criteria are being shifted into local supervision, financed by a stream of tax revenues.

Gov. Jerry Brown is hoping that realignment will get the federal judges off his back, and also, it would seem, hoping that the “realigned felons,” as some reports term them, don’t do anything that would create a big public stink.

Both of those hopes, however, are still just that. The judges are demanding further reductions in the prison population, and as realignment heads into its third year, critics are amassing anecdotal reports of new offenses – some of them fairly horrendous – by felons who would otherwise be behind state prison bars.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and several organizations, including the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and Advocates for Public Safety, are compiling the crime lists, hoping that their rising numbers and nature will spark a political backlash.

They complain that under newly revised state penal law, serious crimes have been downgraded to make offenders eligible for county jail, parole or probation, and that their previous records have been disregarded.

There could, indeed, be a backlash, if someone had enough money to saturate the airwaves with accounts of the murders, rapes and other horrific crimes that the realigned felons are alleged to have committed.

Brown, whose earlier political career was short-circuited by the crime issue three decades ago, knows that realignment could backfire on him if the opposition had a strong, well-known champion and enough money to drive home the point.

However, that’s not likely to be either of the two Republicans who have announced themselves as candidates for governor next year, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. They are, in political terms at least, lightweights who are little known to the public, have political baggage, and have little ability to raise big money for an anti-crime crusade.

California voters have indicated in recent polls, meanwhile, that they are fed up with spending billions upon billions of dollars on prisons while other, more popular government programs go begging.

Nevertheless, as more “N3” (nonviolent, nonsexual, nonserious) felons hit the street, a certain number of them will be committing new crimes.

If one is truly horrific, like the sensational Polly Klaas kidnap/murder that fueled the “three-strikes law” two decades ago, it could become a bombshell.