Public Safety Hearing Highlights Both Successes and Major Concerns. The Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee heard testimony on Thursday, February 23, regarding public safety and prisons in California. At the hearing, several former inmates testified regarding successful rehabilitation they achieved that allowed them to leave prison and to re-enter society, and Senate Republicans applauded them for their hard work.
However, testimony from officials representing Governor Brown indicated that prison authorities lack sufficient data as to which rehabilitation programs work. Senate Republicans also raised questions about a recent increase in state crime that reverses two decades of generally declining crime rates. Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) voiced concerns that state policies such as prison realignment (enacted in 2011 by AB 109 and other state legislation) are contributing to these higher crime rates, and he questioned why Democrats did not have a representative panel. Crime victims and law enforcement groups should have been included in the hearing.
Also highlighting crime concerns, Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) reported that numerous constituents have contacted his office recently expressing worries about their safety. He also expressed concerns that corrections costs continue to increase despite dramatic decreases in the number of offenders in state prisons. Since 2010-11 (the last fiscal year before AB 109 took effect), state prison and parole costs to prison’s budgets have increased by $1.5 billion while the population of inmates has decreased by about 36,000 and the parole population has decreased by about 57,000.
Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicates that although overall crime rates in California are generally lower today than they were two decades ago, the rate of numerous violent and property crimes in California rose substantially in California in 2015 compared to the prior year. Example: rape has increased 10.9 percent.
Senate Republicans believe that additional investigation is needed regarding the effect on crime rates of recent state policies such as prison realignment. The hearing followed a senseless shooting of a police officer in Whittier. The Whittier police chief and the Los Angeles County Sheriff asserted that AB 109 played a role in the officer’s tragic death. The suspect had recently been released from county jail and had violated probation multiple times in recent months.
Starting next week, the Budget Subcommittees will hold hearings to review specific proposals from the Governor’s Budget.