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Guest Commentary by Sen. Sharon Runner
| Thursday, Apr 26, 2012

Sen. Sharon Runner

Cities and counties across California are struggling to meet the increasing demands of housing convicted felons who until last year went to state prison. This local mandate was imposed by the Governor’s realignment plan. With a heavy load of convicted criminals in their jails, local jurisdictions have been forced to release defendants awaiting trial as well as convicted felons who have not completed their sentences.

Understanding this public safety dilemma, I introduced legislation to change current law.

Families should feel safe to walk the streets of their neighborhoods. Repeat offenders with four or more felony convictions should not go to county jail to exhaust limited resources intended for offenders with high potential for rehabilitation.

There’s a fundamental difference between a person who consistently commits felonies and a person who made a mistake and can successfully resume their lives as good citizens.

Specifically, Senate Bill 1435 states that a defendant who is convicted of a felony and has three or more prior felony convictions belongs in state prison. This proposal was an attempt to make the Governor’s prison realignment plan – Assembly Bill 109 – less burdensome on cities and counties.

Realignment as currently implemented does not work, especially as budget cuts compromise the capacity of sheriffs and police departments. Thousands of felons who would have been sent to state prison under laws in place for over a hundred years are now the responsibility of the counties. Since most county jails are already overcrowded, these new felons are either released early or displace other inmates.

My proposed legislation makes sense. That’s why it was supported by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, California District Attorneys Association, California Police Chiefs Association, Los Angeles Police Protective League and California State Sheriffs’ Association.

Senate Bill 1435 failed passage in the Senate Public Safety Committee by a vote of three to four along partisan lines.

Unfortunately, the committee concluded that a career criminal can remain eligible for county jail even if he has accumulated three, five or even seven prior felonies. It is this type of reasoning by Democrats that I will never understand.

They failed to protect the public from career criminals by killing this proposed legislation.

Making changes to this onerous law will be an effort that I will continue to push.

 

Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, represents California’s 17th Senate District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley.

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