This story is the first of two that will look at the various thus-far impacts of AB 109 and Proposition 47 with respect to law enforcement and the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County. The second part will take a more local look at the impact, including potential links to a rise in crime some believe are related to the recent law changes, and how Proposition 47 might be inadvertently affecting the rehabilitative intent of AB 109.
[KHTS] – While it might be too early to draw conclusions about AB 109 and Proposition 47, representatives from county Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office recently shared data on the laws’ combined impacts to the county jail system so far.
AB 109, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2011, created a controversial program known as “realignment,” whereby “newly convicted low-level offenders without current or prior serious or violent offenses stay in county jail to serve their sentence,” according to the state’s website.
The so-called split sentences under AB 109 mandate post-release community supervision as part of the effort to rehabilitate offenders with community-based programs once a criminal is released from custody, known as split-sentencing, in combination with other efforts, such as flash incarcerations.
State prison officials have pointed to payments counties have accepted — the Board of Supervisors accepted more than $337 million last year to support county costs associated with AB 109 –as proof that the state is following through on its commitment to local jails, and there are results.
“This preliminary review of the earliest months appears to show a relationship between spending on re-entry services and a positive impact on recidivism,” according to a statement in September from Tracie Cone, spokeswoman for the Board State of Correctional Communities, an entity created by AB 109.
But state prison officials also generally require three year’s worth of solid data to study recidivism rates, and county officials Wednesday challenged the contention that they’re being provided adequate resources to handle the influx to their jails.
“AB 109 dumped the responsibility of the state to incarcerate and monitor its incarcerated criminals onto the counties without the proper reimbursement,” said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell, “and (statewide) burdened the counties’ departments with all these additional inmates and probationers that the counties were unable and unprepared to handle.”
The most recent data indicates that, in Los Angeles County, 47 percent of inmates sentenced under AB 109 are returned to custody, and the the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office owns a 29 percent conviction rate for that same population, according to data presented to the county.
“Realignment was motivated, in part, by the idea that ‘Locals can do it better’—that counties would be able to reduce the recidivism rates of lower-level offenders more effectively than the state prison and parole system,” according to a Public Policy Institute of California report.
Then, in November, California voters took to the polls at a rate of nearly 60 percent to support Proposition 47.
In reducing nearly all drug possession and theft charges to misdemeanors, Proposition 47 was the major factor in a one-time county jail population reduction of more than 3,000 — from about 19,000 pre-Prop 47 to 15,651 inmates by Jan. 2, according to Anna Mouradian, justice deputy for Antonovich.
While that recent decline is allowing for inmates to serve a higher portion of their county jail sentences for the time being, Mouradian said numbers indicate the longer jail sentences might only be a temporary outcome.
“If the justice system is going to order incarcerate, it’s up to the jail system to provide that incarceration,” Bell said, “and it should be a priority to keep those sentenced to a particular time to serve that entire time, period.”
California sentencing laws
But in California, more specifically Los Angeles County, actual time served rarely matches up to what a judge metes out, according to officials.
In California, all those convicted of a felony automatically receive half-time for their sentence — unless they do something to forfeit the credit in jail, Mouradian said.
So a two-year sentence automatically becomes a one-year sentence, one year becomes six months, etc.
Due to a decision years back in Rutherford v. (former L.A. County Sheriff Peter) Pitchess, the L.A. County Sheriff is granted the ability to release jail inmates early in order to meet court-mandated conditions in the L.A. County’s jails — meaning these sentences become further reduced, she added.
In Los Angeles, because of the court and jail conditions associated with overcrowding, AB 109 inmates were serving anywhere from 20 percent of their sentence — after half-time was deducted. For the most serious and repeat offenders the percentage of time served peaked at around 40 percent of a sentence for the most serious offenses.
What that translates two is someone getting a two-year sentence might serve as little as two months, Mouradian said.
“If you get sentenced to 90 days or less, you’re not doing any time,” she said.
The Proposition 47 effect so far
Since Prop 47’s instantaneous implementation, the courts are seeing an increase in the number of criminals seeking sentence reductions in the order of about 1,200 appeals per week, according to court records.
That’s because criminals sentenced under drug laws prior to Proposition 47 instantly are allowed to seek a sentence reduction based on the new guidelines.
With the jail space that was being occupied by those drug-related offenders now free, it’s allowing AB 109ers to serve a larger percentage of their sentences.
Based on the projections, the changing jail population — if it stayed near its early-January level — would enable those inmates serving 40 percent of their time to now do closer to 100 percent, while the “20 percent” category is serving closer to 80-90 percent, Mouradian said.
However, so far, the jail population numbers have already started to creep up, meaning it’s likely the early releases will return, Mouradian said.
The jail population had risen from about the 15,600-inmate mark in January to about 17,378 this past week.
Antonovich’s representatives cited these statistics, as well as concerns about how to get inmates into the rehabilitative programs they need, as reasons why we need to expand our jail system.
The outcome, he said, “is criminals serving very short sentences and threatening public safety.”