California News

State prison vs county jails for traffickers: Lawmaker pushes against realignment

Monday, April 01, 2013

The state's prison realignment program has been controversial. Now some lawmakers want to send a certain group of felons to state prison instead of county jails.

Governor Brown's 2011 realignment plan shifted many low-level offenders from state prison to county jails. But 18 months later, sheriffs are finding drug traffickers are taking up way too much room at the jail with sentences of up to two decades long.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) wants drug traffickers back in state prison. The freshman Democrat believes local facilities aren't the place for them anyway.

Under realignment, the state gives counties money annually to run rehabilitation and other community-based programs to stop criminals from re-offending, something Cooley thinks can't help hard criminals like drug-traffickers.

"To have these type of inmates is a problem," said Cooley. "It doesn't fit the direction of what these county jails have become."

But one of the main reasons behind Governor Brown's realignment plan is to relieve prison overcrowding, not put more people back in.

In fact, the feds have taken over the prison medical system because they determined overcrowding contributed to unconstitutional care.

Shifting certain incarceration responsibilities to the counties is a way to answer a court order to reduce the prison population, improve health care and get out of federal receivership.

"Doubling down on this kind of failed incarceration-only policy will guarantee that receivership continues long into the future and at considerable state expense," said Kimberly Horiuchi, criminal justice and drug policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully says she had a case where a drug trafficker was convicted of possessing 15 pounds of methamphetamine with a street value of nearly $700,000.

"As a parent, I don't want hard drug traffickers staying in my community, having the benefits of services here. Let them go to the state where they belong," said Scully.

"Going back to an obviously broken system doesn't make a lot sense," said Horiuchi.

It's not just drug-traffickers taking up so much room. The California Sheriff's Association recently found that locals are housing more than 1,100 inmates who are serving sentences of five years or more. Local jails are generally designed for stays of one year or less.

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