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Flood of felons coming?
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Four months ago, I wrote about the impending release of "30,000 to 70,000" inmates from California state prisons. Until recently, the issue languished with only limited publicity. Clearly, it is an issue worthy of far greater publicity and public concern, since the release of tens of thousands of convicted felons constitutes an immediate and direct threat to public safety, security and ultimately, the quality of life of Californians.

The exact number of inmates that our state prison system is designed to handle is unclear. I have read published reports that list the number to be 100,000 inmates, while another report indicated a 155,000 prisoner capacity. The prisoner count is said to be 175,000 at this time, so the threat of having to release 40,000 prisoners to come into "compliance" with capacity standards makes little sense, given the aforementioned figures.

Regardless of the actual numbers, whether referring to the prison system capacity or the correct number of inmates presently incarcerated, a panel of three federal judges is poised to decide whether or not to release the 40,000 prisoners. This three-judge panel, based on their individual history of past case decisions, has definite leanings on such matters as this one before them. There is a strong possibility that they will issue the prisoner release order to address the "overcrowding" situation. This state will be in real trouble if the judges decide this case solely on the legalities surrounding the overcrowding situation. There is a second, more important side to this issue: it is you, members of the general public who will be victims of this criminal tidal wave.

The result of any such order is dangerous and without a doubt, will generate thousands of new crime victims. Recidivism statistics show that 56 percent of criminals are caught re-offending within three years of release. One need not tax their intellectual acuity to foretell what this mass release will do to our state, communities and neighborhoods.

To assuage your concerns, any prisoner release will coincide with the government's assertion that those released prisoners will pose minimal threat to the community. This cannot be so. Those in prison, regardless of what their last crime that landed them behind bars was, are the worst of the worst. It takes a rich history of crime to end up in state prison, where repetition and violent offenses underpin the nature of those incarcerated. Also, one needs to keep in mind that criminals usually are able to commit numerous crimes before getting caught. And then, once caught, the system is so overloaded that they are able to commit even more criminal acts before they end up in prison. No, these early-release inmates are not harmless. Do not believe otherwise.

Then there is the issue of the state parole system. State parole agents presently have a caseload that, for some of them, is as high 90 parolees. This represents an impossible task for the agents. Consequently, we now have one of the highest numbers of "parolees-at-large" ever. This means that once these parolees exit prison and who are supposed to remain under the close supervision of their parole agents, are unaccounted for - most likely out committing crime and causing other harm to our society. Add in a few more tens of thousands of inmates, and the situation is clearly out of control.

And where are these early-release inmates likely to end up? In regions like the Central Valley, of course. The more affluent areas, like Los Altos Hills, Malibu, Marin County, San Luis Obispo and the like generate fewer convicts and are less likely to see their return once a prison sentence is completed. Not only is there the recent parole residential issue, but also the populations of affluent areas that are more likely to object to a convict being released into their neighborhood. Those communities empowered with financial and political resources can, and will act to exert pressure and take necessary steps to keep their neighborhoods free from the problems we are going to face here.

Additionally, keep in mind that "40,000" prisoners released is not where the damage will end. Initially, public fanfare will spark both outrage and debate which will eventually subside, and then, quietly and under the public's radar, the release of more convicts. And because the cap on prisoners is firm, it will translate into an equation that, for every new convict sentenced to prison, one will be early-released.

The criminals watching this debacle unfold are salivating at the prospects, and, at the same time, watching this buffoonery with humor. This state, which is the 6th largest economic power in the world and supposedly led by clear-thinking, wisdom-filled intellectuals, is going down a path of self-destruction - all based on theoretical problems. And to clarify, I use the term "theoretical," as this relates to the fact that a judge ruled that the State of California cannot export inmates to other states to reduce the overcrowding. Therein lays one of the major reasons for this "crisis." Clearly, this problem can be tackled legislatively, but the system is so mired in politics and bureaucracy, that it could take years to complete. In the meantime, the innocent inhabitants of our communities will suffer at the hands of a huge influx of unsupervised parolees who have all been adjudicated as dangers to social harmony.

To add to this outrage, California's state prison capacity crisis has reached critical mass. It was completely avoidable and solvable long before today. This state's population has grown dramatically and predictably for the last decade, while funding for the prisons has remained woefully inadequate.

The state recently allocated $7.9 billion for 53,000 new prison beds. This is a good start, but it will take years to build new prisons and it will be a monumental task to recruit, hire and train new correctional officers. There will also be the same problem of the inadequate number of hiring and paying for the many more parole agents required to deal with all of these new parolees. At most, these agents should be limited 40 parolees supervised. The new beds in prisons will make a big difference to the problem, but with California's skyrocketing population growth, and the accompanying disproportionate increase in crime, we will soon find ourselves in the same bad situation despite the additional 53,000 prison beds.

This early-release path that we are now going down has many more negative implications than I have already mentioned. Crime is costly in many ways. Unless they are in the security business, new business enterprises from outside this state will surely have second thoughts about starting an operation in California. There will be a tremendous financial and workload impact on local police departments, our jails, the courts and the district attorneys' offices around the state. This could also result in insurance premium increases for businesses and individuals. Additionally, there will be significant impacts on government-funded social welfare and benefit programs, the list goes on.

Now that this matter has fallen into the hands of the federal courts, the public's ability to influence or intervene is somewhat limited. However, it is essential that everyone pays attention and applies pressure on their state legislators to ensure state law change process is expedited to ameliorate this situation. Funding for adequate prison space is critical, future prison space planning and funding is essential, the number of state parole agents must increase proportionately and correctional officer recruitment and hiring must rapidly increase.

I am quite aware that, for public safety and peace, the state prison system is only one component of the overall equation. Rehabilitation, proper socialization, mentoring and role models for young people, values and morality are of critical importance. In terms of protecting the people of our state from the worst of the worst, all we have right now is the prison system. Rehabilitation and reform is out of the question for most of these convicts, so the people need to remain protected from them, and imprisonment is the best alternative. It is absolutely essential that our prison system is sized properly for this population and the growing crime rates. The politics, funding squabbles, legal maneuvering and such things as the esoteric definition of what constitutes real overcrowding, are all largely irrelevant when it comes to your lives, your safety and your sense of security. My worry about this situation runs deep, as I know just how much is at stake for this great state.