By Thomas Winfrey
Los Angeles and San Francisco counties are taking different approaches to the state’s prison realignment plan.
San Francisco officials view realignment as an opportunity to improve public safety: Los Angeles officials see it as a burden.
“It is predictably the worst thing that is going to happen to the public in my 40-year career,” said Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley. San Francisco District Attorney George Gasćon said, “Our system is screaming for a new way of doing business.”
Each county was required to submit a realignment Implementation Plan to county supervisors for housing inmates who are convicted of non-violent, non-serious, or non-high-risk sex offenses.
Counties take on the added responsibility for supervising the release of these inmates, plus anyone sentenced before realignment went into effect and is currently housed in state prison. Realignment also transitions responsibility for all state parole violation revocation hearings to the counties, except inmates released from life sentences as of July 1, 2013. The counties will also be responsible for housing these violators.
The Los Angeles plan states, “This shift is monumental and will not only mark a challenge for the Sheriff’s Department, but also the District Attorney, Public Defender, Probation Department, Department of Mental Health, Department of Health Services, Superior Court, and all municipalities.”
San Francisco’s Implementation Plan mentions nothing about realignment being a challenge. The plan states “this policy initiative … is intended to improve success rates of offenders under supervision, resulting in less victimization and increased community safety.”
Los Angeles designated its Probation Department as the lead agency in charge of the inmates being released into the county’s custody. The department plans to develop an individualized plan for each post-release supervised person within 30 days, according to its Implementation Plan.
San Francisco is also planning to allow its Probation Department to play a key role in managing the realignment population. Probation Department personnel would meet with inmates at least 60 days before they are released from jail “to ensure a smooth transition at the time of the prisoner’s release.”
Los Angeles’ Implementation Plan outlines four possible options for the increase in jail population. The county plans to send 500 inmates to the privately owned Community Correction Facilities; allow 6,680 inmates to participate in community-based alternatives such as station work, work release, and electronic monitoring; send 700 inmates to county fire camps; and add 4,300 more jail beds.
San Francisco’s Sheriff’s Department “will maximize county jail capacity and utilize alternatives to incarceration through the Department’s Community Programs Division. By expanding the sheriff’s authority in the use of home detention and electronic monitoring, the Board of Supervisors will provide additional alternatives to incarceration to be utilized for both the pretrial and sentenced populations.”
Both counties show a concern for the homeless population of ex-inmates. The Los Angeles plan says “an attempt will be made to locate a temporary ‘Homeless Shelter’ for the (inmate) before his/her release.” San Francisco County’s plan says the county will seek to provide released prisoners with permanent housing.
Los Angeles County is projected to handle 9,000 individuals in the first year under realignment. San Francisco is projected to receive 700 in the first year of realignment.
The Los Angeles plan says the District Attorney’s Office estimates 50 people a year are sentenced to terms around 25 years in the county jail for some minor category crimes.