It’s a new era for law-enforcement agencies statewide two years after California made sweeping modifications to the justice system through its realignment program, and in Long Beach and Signal Hill, police departments are adapting to the change.
In October 2011, California initiated the realignment program under legislation called AB 109 in order to comply with a federal court order that aimed to reduce the state prison population by the end of this year.
Proposing a comprehensive three-year plan, Gov. Jerry Brown had hoped that the court would allow more time for the State to comply with the order to reduce the number of its inmates in state prison facilities, but last month, a three-judge panel only extended the deadline to Jan. 27, 2014. About seven years ago, the number of state prison inmates was estimated to be almost 200,000, and now the goal is to get the inmate population closer to 112,000, about 137.5 percent of the design capacity of the prison facilities, according to Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Simas also confirmed that, under the realignment program, only those offenders who are newly convicted after October 2011 of a non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offense will serve time in county jails. Once released, these lower-leveI offenders report to county probation instead of state parole.
Ryan Fischer, a California State University, Long Beach associate professor of criminal justice, explained how county jail systems are now seeing a shift in their inmate populations. He said that, post-realignment, there are more offenders in county jails and more offenders in these facilities who would be serving sentences that typically last from one to three years.
“Plus we’re having a different sort of breed of offender,” Fischer said, describing how inmates used to serve only a short time in the county jail before moving on to a state prison. He said they are now serving their full sentences in county jail.
The realignment program had been criticized when it first rolled out two years ago. Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston acknowledged in a telephone interview Monday that the goals of realignment to reduce the recidivism rate and keep people from going into prison are at least good causes. However, the police chief added, prior to realignment, there was a lack of programs for individuals following their release…programs like job assistance or substance-abuse treatment.
“The biggest concern is that realignment came before those programs were put in place,” Langston said, explaining that there weren’t many programs already established to “help people stay out of trouble, not reoffend and not go back to prison.”
Langston added that it is possible that the law-enforcement community will be more supportive of AB 109 and realignment as more programs develop.
“And again I think that the biggest challenge is that all the pieces of the puzzle for prison realignment were not in place before prison realignment became the law,” Langston concluded, “and so we’re kind of chasing our tail to get all those things put in place to make this thing work.”
Fischer agrees that there aren’t enough programs or resources throughout most of Los Angeles and Orange counties, adding that “this is new uncharted territory for us for the last two years.”
Both Signal Hill and Long Beach police departments are paying close attention to how to handle criminals following their release. The brunt of the responsibility of checking on post-release offenders still lies with the county’s probation department, but police departments have carved out their own role.
Earlier this summer, Long Beach opted to form the Public Safety Realignment Team, which consists of officers and a staff sergeant. Ultimately this team is part of the police department’s field-support division under the deputy chief of the patrol bureau, according to Sgt. Aaron Eaton, a spokesperson for the Long Beach Police Department.
Eaton said in a telephone interview Wednesday that this particular team has been established to follow up with offenders who are considered PRCS, or post-release community supervision. Eaton explained that the team has been instructed to hold offenders accountable if they are not fulfilling their probation obligations and to ensure that individuals have access to mental-health and drug treatment. Eaton described how crucial the team will be in developing an overall plan for the department to assess the impact of realignment and determine a course of action.
“Through their…hard work,” Eaton said, “we’ll be able to come up with a plan and work towards dealing with these probationers as best we can to keep the community safe.”
Eaton estimated that there are roughly 1,000 individuals in Long Beach who are considered PRCS, but he added that some individuals under county probation may be living in drug-treatment facilities in the city with residences outside of Long Beach.
Through AB 109, Long Beach does have money to fund its efforts. Eaton confirmed that Long Beach has been allocated $525,092 of AB 109 funds that will pay for straight time, overtime and investigative work, in addition to training officers to identify and prioritize compliance checks on probationers.
Signal Hill also has some funds through AB 109. According to Langston, his police department received $25,000 to pay for costs related to following up with individuals who are considered PSP, or post-supervised released persons. He described how there is a detective in his department who regularly works with these individuals in collaboration with a county probation officer who is embedded with the police department. Langston said that this county probation officer’s primary responsibility is to look after PSPs and the other individuals in the general area who are on probation.
Langston said that currently there are only two PSPs living in Signal Hill. Originally, the city had 16. He confirmed that some have moved from the city, while in other cases, the term of supervision ended.