Budget cuts would wreak havoc, Cooley says

Saying it would "wreak havoc" in the criminal justice system, district attorney Steve Cooley warned last Friday that a state budget proposal to transfer thousands of convicted felons and parolees to county custody and supervision "threatens the safety of citizens.""The realignment proposal is a public safety nightmare," Cooley told the Assembly Budget Subcommittee during a late afternoon hearing in the Board of Supervisors hearing room in downtown Los Angeles. The hearing is on Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal that would transfer responsibility for specified "low-level offenders" and parolees from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to individual counties. According to Cooley, Los Angeles County already faces a "severe and chronic" jail overcrowding problem that prompted a federal court-mandated population cap on the jail population. This has resulted in the early release of county jail prisoners, Cooley said. The county's jails currently house about 18,000 inmates, 90% of which are pre-trial detainees, leaving some 1,800 beds for post-conviction sentencing, Cooley said. Filling those beds now are inmates sentenced for misdemeanor crimes, inmates returned to jail for violating probation, and defendants who have been given a jail term as a condition of a felony probation. All of those sentenced prisoners are routinely released early. Cooley estimated that under the governor's proposal, up to 9,000 convicted felons would be required to serve their sentences in L.A. County. "There is no room in the jails for them," he said. "Nor is there room for an estimated 6,500 Los Angeles County parole violators who would receive jail terms in lieu of prison under the proposal." Cooley warned that under the governor's proposal, "Society will not be adequately protected. Convicted felons will not be adequately punished....Tens of thousands of convicted felons will be on the streets with minimal supervision, threatening all Californians."

********** Published: February 17, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 44