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Saving state cash can be real killer for Californians
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Saving money is killing Californians - literally.

That's the point State Senator Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, is making after a 30-year-old unsupervised prison parolee stabbed and beat to death a woman and an elderly man earlier this month in Culver City.

Lieu is blaming the deaths indirectly on the California Legislature's decision to put in place "non-revocable parole" that went into effect in January of 2010. It was heralded as a way of saving money by returning fewer lower-level offenders to prison for minor infractions of their parole conditions.

The murder suspect, Zackariah Timothy Lehmen, had served less than five months of a 16-month prison sentence for drug possession. He was placed on unsupervised parole in November and was arrested for murder five months later.

There are 13,000 other ex-convicts out on the streets that are essentially not being monitored by anyone. They do not have to report to parole officers nor do they have to worry about being returned to prison for violating the conditions of their release. They only go back if they commit new crimes. Until the Legislature decided to save money by cutting corners on public safety instead of tackling state bureaucratic ranks and benefits in Sacramento, convicts like Lehmen would have had to report to parole officers on a regular basis, abstain from alcohol and drugs, and avoid other felons or else they'd automatically go back to prison.

Lieu wants the law halted immediately especially given how the computerized risk-assessment program the state is using apparently is flawed.

The Associated Press in 2010 documented that some of those released under the program had been convicted of violent and threatening crimes despite the law stating they must be non-violent offenders to qualify for unsupervised parole. About 10 percent of those 30,000 felons released committed more serious crimes than allowed under the law for unsupervised release. The Department of Corrections responded to that report by saying it is following the letter of the law. Lieu, for his part, said it was never the intention of lawmakers to allow dangerous felons to walk the streets unsupervised.

What else did Lieu and his colleagues expect to happen? The Legislature, over the years, created the Winchester Mystery House of Government by cobbling on pet programs on top of basic government and kept changing directions. Now they are trying to unravel the mess they created with the budget through the same technique.

Public safety is an interconnected puzzle and not stand-alone issues.

It doesn't matter if police arrest criminals if there is no room in jails, public defender and district attorney staffs are too undermanned to defend and prosecute them or that the courts can't keep up with the volume. Toss in parole officers with loads 10 times the size they were 20 years ago and Brown's proposal to partially empty state prisons by turning convicts over to counties to house in jails which in turn eliminates space for suspects arrested by police and little wonder things keep getting worse.

Yet even in the middle of the most severe budget crisis since the Depression, saber-rattling politicians keep passing more laws for the public safety system to enforce further burdening down the system and essentially making a mockery out of law and order.

Everything needs overhauling from the laws and penalties to the justice and punishment system itself.

Simply passing new taxes and new laws won't do it.

As much as most people don't want to see public education hurt further or public safety compromised, many say they won't support extending the so-called temporary taxes that cost a typical household $80 a year do so out of the belief it would only keep money flowing to problems the state won't address such as the teacher pension system.

If politicians became students of governing as effectively as they are students of running for office, then perhaps there'd be a good chance things could straighten out in Sacramento.

But until then California is going to continue in a downward death spiral with law-abiding Californians paying the ultimate price for legislative incompetence.