California Prison Reform: Public Safety, Victims, Employees be Damned

INSIDER REPORT - The Secretary of the California Dept. of Corrections (and rehabilitation), Matthew Cate, Adult Operations Undersecretary Terri McDonald and their sycophant colleagues trumpet corrections reform and the alleged cost savings as a giant progressive step forward institutionalized by Assembly Bill 109, otherwise known as Realignment.  In theory, some elements of the legislation may, if appropriately targeted, mindfully implemented and supported by adequate resources, eventually serve to enhance public safety.

However, it hasn’t happened yet.  Indeed no part of AB 109 has even been clearly demonstrated to be effective during the first twelve months of implementation.  To the contrary, extensive documentation has cited dramatic increases in property crime and moderate to serious increases in violent crime, including sexual assaults and homicides, in broad areas of the state.  Prior to October 1, 2011, the implementation date of Realignment, these figures had been trending down in many areas.  

Realignment is defined as transferring the responsibility of supervision of low-level offenders to counties.  Those so-called low-level offenders are supposed to be non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious, otherwise known as “non, non, non.”  However, this designation refers only to the most recent commitment offense.  This definition was either intentionally deceptive and / or grossly misleading.

Prior to Realignment it was already well known that many county jails were operating under court imposed population caps.  Early jail releases were a fact of life in many jurisdictions prior to overloading counties with additional population.

Any real corrections professional, meaning one with an iota of actual experience, knows that most offenders have considerable experience with the juvenile and adult criminal justice system, having committed a variety of felonies before finally being sentenced to prison.  Virtually nobody but murderers and (now) child molesters goes to prison the first time they are caught.  

They have already failed in myriad social institutions, programs, and correctional efforts.  As such, those designated as AB 109 eligible are frequently a high risk to public safety and highly prone to recidivism.  One county stated the average felon received by them via realignment had 8+ prior felony convictions.

AB 109 impacts not just real “non, non, non” prisoners but also places some of the most predatory, dangerous and recidivistic sex offenders and violent offenders under community supervision.  Many people who thought AB 109 was a good idea were not aware of this fact, or chose to ignore it.

Experienced departmental peace officers, managers and administrators pled with the Secretary to recognize the public safety implications of the Realignment proposal, only to have the message fall on deaf ears.  As a result, most counties were ill prepared when the reality hit them.  They simply did not have the resources in place to handle the avalanche of criminals dumped into their lap by CDC, courtesy of AB 109.

Much of this failure is based on one simple fact; the Secretary of the Department of Corrections (and rehabilitation) is not a correctional professional.  He is a lawyer.  His inner circle is lawyers.  They accept most of their input from lawyers and academic “experts” that have never actually worked in a prison.  They regard actual line staff, people with experience working within the system, with disdain bordering on contempt.  

A few counties now refuse to accept any parole violators in jails.  Others may book violators, but hold them only briefly.  Unless parole violators were committed to prison for homicide, they may not be returned to prison for parole violation.  

Parole violators may not serve more than 10 days in county jail for parole violation (assuming space is available) without court approval. Parolees remaining under supervision of the Department of Corrections Parole Division were quick to recognize the lack of space at the inn and the fact they could not be returned to prison.  Thus many routinely violate both general conditions and special conditions of parole.  

Sex offenders refuse to wear GPS devices.  They reside with children, live in proximity to parks and schools, use alcohol and drugs and generally do as they please.  Committed, dedicated departmental employees are deeply wounded by their inability to work to enhance public safety.  It is now commonplace to see parole violators who have been cited multiple times for violation before the first violation is even processed.

The situation got so bad recently at one area in the central valley that Parole Agents were openly requesting to be relieved of many of their assignments, citing lack of administrative support and resources necessary to do their job.  This situation prompted a visit from high-level headquarters staff to try to pour oil on the troubled waters.  The attempt was not completely successful.

Some of the impact of Realignment to our communities is beginning to be reported by the media.  However, other unilateral actions taken by the Secretary have been sent forth beneath the radar.  Needless to say the Secretary has not advertised these actions via press releases.

Parole Agents have reported for months that the Board of Parole Hearings has recently taken a much more liberal position in discharging parolees than was previously the norm.  Commonplace examples of the Board discharging parolees contrary to recommendations include parolees who have absconded or are sitting in jail facing new felony charges.  

By policy, parolees are now reviewed for discharge every six months compared to the previous annual review.  To date, approximately 15,000 such dischargees have been dumped on our communities in addition to 30,000 who were realigned.  

Law enforcement is required to obtain a search warrant before searching a discharged parolee just as they would with any other citizen.  The fact of the matter is the Department and the Board are moving to dump huge numbers of parolees out of the system in order to save the cost of supervising them, regardless of the public safety impact.

Beginning this month, the Board of Parole Hearings at the direction of the Secretary will commence holding discharge hearings on approximately 11,000 PALs (parolees-at-large, persons who have failed to report to their parole officer).  

Adding to the overload on the counties criminal justice resources are those assigned to adult probation “banked” caseloads.  These are probationers who do not receive active supervision.  It is estimated that this includes approximately 60,000 who meet criteria for active supervision, but are not supervised due to lack of resources.

Given this dramatic overload to the criminal justice system, particularly in high per-capita crime areas, it is no wonder that crime rates are soaring.  Even Polyanna could see this coming.  The Secretary of the Department of Corrections (and rehabilitation) could not, or at least did not.

There are many examples of inappropriate decisions taken at the direction of the Secretary.  A shocking example occurred in Merced last month.  Law enforcement responded to reports of probable domestic violence at Motel 6.


Hearing a female screaming in a room where they were directed, they knocked on the door.  William Kelly, G-48692, (DOB 5/17/76), aka “Nut Case,” opened the door.  Officers noted the room was in shambles.  Investigation confirmed that Kelly’s girlfriend had been kidnapped, assaulted, sexually assaulted and held there against her will.  Kelly’s commitment offense involved corporal injury to a spouse / cohabitant.

Kelly had been discharged by the Board of Parole Hearings on April 27, 2012, contrary to recommendations by the Parole Agent, Supervising Parole Agent and Parole Administrator.  He had failed to comply with program requirements, is gang affiliated, had three parole violations and the highest possible rating on an automated violence rating scale.  The significance of the rating was that it was estimated that he would commit a violent act within three years.

The discharge of Kelly defies rational explanation.  It is believed that Secretary Cate and / or Undersecretary Terri McDonald ordered these hearings and that the actions were implemented by Board of Parole Hearings, Executive Officer Jennifer Shaffer.  Per policy, actions of the board are supposed to be taken independently of CDC.

These actions of the Secretary and the Board of Parole Hearings are unconscionable; represent a violation of the Department’s public service mission and policy guidelines for independent action by the Board of Parole Hearings as well as a failure to protect the safety of crime victims and the general public.   

The Secretary, the Department and Realignment are failing on all counts.  The citizens and taxpayers of California, crime victims and the many capable, diligent committed departmental employees deserve better.

Where is the Governor and legislative oversight of the Department?  They seem to be conspicuous by their absence.

(The author, Bob Walsh, retired in 2005 as a Lieutenant with the California Department of Corrections after working 24 years in the system.  He now writes on criminal justice issues for CorrectionsOne and the PacoVilla blog.)

Vol 10 Issue 83
Pub: Oct 16, 2012