10/04/2011 02:10 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2011

California Prison Reduction Plans Are An 'Unfunded Mandate,' Says Police Chief Beck

If you watched Mayor Villaraigosa's press conference yesterday, you might have walked away with the impression that Los Angeles is about to become a lawless, violent and impoverished metropolis as a result of a new plan to reduce the state inmate population.

The Mayor, flanked by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, claimed that "Sacramento is transferring more than 4,200 offenders to Los Angeles" and that they weren't coming with any extra budgetary support, reports CBS Los Angeles.

For his part, Chief Beck called the state's prison reduction plan an "unfunded mandate" that would result in longer emergency response times and unsafe communities for Angelenos, as he would have to divert 150 police officers to probation duties instead of street patrol.

But is that an accurate depiction of California's "prison realignment" act? The Los Angeles Times thinks not. In an op-ed published last night, columnist Robert Greene accuses both of them of either being ignorant or cynically fear-mongering the public into thinking "hordes of new criminals are coming to town" to suit their political purposes.

Greene also calls Villaraigosa out for not naming the root of the problem -- that perhaps it's LA county ineptitude, not a lack of funds, that is scary. From the op-ed:

If the mayor really wanted to come clean on the nature of the problem, he'd note that there is in fact some serious concern that Sheriff Lee Baca's now-empty jails in Castaic and elsewhere may eventually fill up, and that county officials might make mistakes about who can be released with an ankle bracelet, to make room, and who must be kept behind bars. But that's hardly the same thing as saying current prisoners are being transferred to cities.


... Los Angeles County government may be simply too much of a mess to handle the job the right way. The county recently fired hundreds of probation officers while hiring hundreds more. The Board of Supervisors reportedly fired the chief probation officer. But that says more about the house of horrors that is Los Angeles County government than it does about realignment. Other counties appear to be up to their new tasks.

The controversial plan, called "Prison Realignment," helps California comply with a Supreme Court order to reduce the state prison population as soon as possible. Here's how it works (information from the Associated Press, My Mother Lode, and the Los Angeles Times)

  • Non-violent, lower-level offenders will be sentenced to county jails instead of state prisons (this includes people convicted of "auto theft, burglary, grand theft, forgery, counterfeiting and drug possession for sale."
  • Their sentence length wil remain the same.
  • Violent and sexual offenders will still be sent to state prisons as usual.
  • State inmates that finish up their sentences will report to county probation officers instead of state probation officers.
  • California has put aside $5.6 billion for counties to help them meet their new responsibilities
  • The new law will affect offenders sentenced on September 30, 2011 or afterward.

The "realignment" also moves inmates to a jail closer to home where they'll have more access to their families. They'll also be closer to rehabilitation services, which could help reduce recidivism rates.

The hope is that realignment could also save the state money that would be diverted to education. Currently, the state spends more of its budget on the state prison system than both the University of California and the California State University systems combined, according to the Associated Press.

What is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa afraid of?