Monday, February 7, 2011
Cooley Blasts Governor’s Budget Plan, Baca More Receptive
By MARC B. HAEFELE, Staff Writer
Sheriff Lee Baca and District Attorney Steve Cooley, Los Angeles County’s two top public safety officials, differed markedly Friday on the merits of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budgetary “realignment” aimed at closing the state’s $25.4 billion dollar budget deficit.
Cooley strongly opposed the plan as it applied to law enforcement. Brown’s proposals include $12.5 billion in cuts and providing another $12.5 billion in revenues through a ballot initiative that would extend certain existing tax rates past their impending sunset dates. The governor has also spoken of “realigning” state programs to counties—including parole, “low-level criminals” and juvenile justice.
The third-term disrict attorney spoke strongly against still-tentative portions of the proposal that would transfer “lower-level” offenders now in the state prison system to county jails and transfer state parolees to the authority of the Los Angeles County Department of Probation. The occasion was a hearing of the Assembly Subcommittee on Budget Process, Oversight and Program Evaluation, held at the Hall of Administration.
“The proposal for `lower-level offenders’ requires counties to incarcerate all convicted felons sentenced to state prison on non-violent, non-serious, non-sex-related offense,” Cooley said. “These [people] do not equal lower level offenders,” he insisted.
Cooley enumerated several major fraud artists who were included as “non-violent” offenders, criminals whose felonies had cost the public many millions of dollars. He noted that major narcotics dealers would also fall in this category, as would wholesale identity thieves.
“People who are in prison deserve it,” he said.
“It’s a huge mistake,” he added. “The process will dump 18,000 criminals into the streets of Los Angeles—60,000 statewide.”
The district attorney added that the shift of adult parolee services from the state to the county would increase the number of serious potential criminals in the community.. “These parolees are not limited to having prior convictions for nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex-related offenses. The county would be supervising and housing felons on parole for rape, murder and other strike offenses.”
Cooley said that the amount of money the state would offer to help the county handle the new work load was “uncertain.” And, he said, there is no room in the highly overcrowded county system for more inmates.
The potential parole violators alone created a costly problem, the district attorney said, creating a need for 500 more jail beds per month. Handling the anticipated recidivism rate among prisoners, and “understanding there is currently no room to house these additional prisoners, one can reasonably expect approximately 15,500 convicted felons on the streets of Los Angeles with minimal supervision,” he said.
He added that the projected costs for the necessary new staffing for his office would be “more than $19 million.”
Cooley suggested alternatives, which included granting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation “the same authority as county sheriffs to utilize alternative incarceration methods” for those “convicted of non-violent…non-sexual crimes.” These would include home detention combined with electronic monitoring and even work furlough programs.
Baca seemed more amenable to discussing the “realignment.” But he did contend that the state already owed his department $54 million for the incarceration of parole violators in his department’s jails.
Baca proposed that as an alternative, laws be passed that would allow local police and sheriff’s departments to take over the entire parole system.
“Their personnel can do parolee support and apply ankle bracelets when needed,” the sheriff said. He said that the problems of recidivism and parole violations might be better handled with “improved education programs for the incarcerated.”
Baca said he realized the state proposals were works in progress.
“There will be no wholesale new beginning July 1,” he said. “I will do all I can to help.”
In greeting the committee before the hearing, Fourth District county Supervisor Don Knabe thanked the members for coming to Los Angeles. “When we had a similar crisis back in 1991,” Knabe recalled, “we supervisors then had to go to Sacramento to testify before you.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company