How Will High Court Ruling On State Prisons Affect SD?
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Aired 5/24/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.
We'll get local reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to release more than 33,000 inmates from California prisons. Governor Brown's realignment proposal would transfer non-violent low-level state prisoners to county jails, what would that mean for San Diego?
Life Inside R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility
R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the only state prison in San Diego County and it sits on a mesa about a mile and a half from the U.S.-Mexico border. The large complex houses approximately 4,800 inmates and has experienced the same budget cuts and overcrowding found at other prisons throughout California.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision is clear, overcrowding in California prisons violates the constitution. What's not yet clear is what California is going to do to reduce the state prison population by about 33-thousand inmates and how it will affect San Diego.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis
Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) is vice-chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Public Safety which oversees funding for the state prison system.
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision is clear. Overcrowding in California prisons violates the constitution. What's not yet clear is what California is going to do to reduce the state prison population, and how it will affect San Diego. Joining me on the line is San Diego district attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Hello.
DUMANIS: Hi, Maureen, how are you doing and.
CAVANAUGH: I'm fine, thank you. What is your reaction to the Supreme Court decision.
DUMANIS: Well, we here in San Diego have been ahead of the curve in reentry in dealing with those people that are coming from the prisons into our community. The problem with the Court decision, however, is that unless we have the resources that are necessary to ham the public safety issues in our community, then it's a recipe for disaster.
CAVANAUGH: Now, what I understand is that Governor Brown's realignment proposal would transfer nonviolent, low level state prisons to facilities in counties like San Diego. So what does that actually mean for San Diego? How many more prisons might we have to deal with?
DUMANIS: Well, first, you know, the governor has ABone zero nine. And we have been examining that, that's some six hundred pages of legislation that it is pretty clear to us that nobody read before it was passed in the legislature. It changes the definition of what a felony is because it now makes a felony into the -- the penalty is imprisonment in county jail for more than one year, and it changes over five hundred and 40 criminal statutes. There are lots of issues subively with the law in AB one zero nine. But again, there is no funding mechanism right now in place to give us the people here in San Diego with the adequate resources to take care of them. It will mean we will need more probation officers, it puts more of a financial burden on the District Attorney's office. It puts more of a burden financially on the Court system, the Public Defender, and the sheriff. And it's not really low level felons that we're talking about. We're also including in AW one zero nine drug dealers that have dealt with huge numbers of drugs, serial DUI, you know, somebody with five DUIs who is supposed to did to prison will be kept here locally. We're talking about those that steal car, burglars. There's a whole host of people that are included in this that are of concern to us, and there are also constitutional issues that are present indeed this bill.
CAVANAUGH: In accordance with AB109, this realignment proposal of the governor's, do you have any idea how much money and assistance from the state we would need to make that work?
DUMANIS: Well, we are -- here in San Diego County, the sheriff's department, the chief probation officer, Mac Jones, sheriff gore, myself, as well as all our own safety measures have been meeting for some time to begin the process of how we're going to deal with people. Because what we've said consistently is we can do it better here locally if we are given the resources. Because what the state is saying we're gonna shift all of what we do to the local government, but they're not giving us the money that they use now to do that. So unless we have a solid commitment of money for this, we can't do that. And what we do know is that it's transferring the super vision of parolees from the at the present time of corrections, and also from the board of prison hearings to the probation and to the courts. So we're anticipating at least a population to probation of about four thousand prisoners coming back here, but we're also gonna have revocations that means that those people who are out of prison will go back into local jails, that means those people that are ordinarily coming out will go into local jails. So at this point, there is no orderly fashion that the state has given us as to how things are gonna happen. They're still talking about it in Sacramento and they're still talking about the need to fix some of the things that were not done right in this legislation.
CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with San Diego County district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, and as you have been thinking about this, and as this has been going through the Court system, and it's been a possibility for a long time now, I -- how is San Diego preparing? Do we need actually to build more facilities in order to house these additional prisoners?
DUMANIS: Well, can't answer whether we need more facilities. . What I can tell you is if we got -- just before the Supreme Court decision we're anticipating some two thousand plus people that we'd be dealing with in our community. At any one time we have about eight thousand people on parole here in San Diego. So we'd have these additional two thousand. We don't have the resources right now in the community, and by that, I mean substance abuse treatment programs, mental health programs, vocational programs available to those we have now in our community. So if you dump a huge population of people that are very needy into our community without giving them the resources that they need, they're going to victimize people again in our community. It's I public safety risk.
CAVANAUGH: The Supreme Court gives us, the state, two years to got this done. Do you think we need more time?
DUMANIS: Well, it does say that they will revisit that two year limitation if the state shows a good faith effort to do it. You know, the state's known this is coming for a long time. They've done some things already. But we've all known, we have had 15 reports that tell us what has needed to be done for the last 15 years, with evidence based programs with what we need in the community, those kinds of things. So the hedge similarity needs to bring those of us that are in the trenches to the table to present a plan to them, and not just willy-nilly put this together so that they meet their budget concerns.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with San Diego County district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis. Thank you so much.
DUMANIS: You're welcome. Bye-bye, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: On the line with me now is senator Joel Anderson, California's 36th district representing San Diego and Riverside Counties. He's vice claim of the subcommittee on public safety, which over sees funding for the state prison system. And good afternoon, senator Anderson.
ANDERSON: It's a pleasure. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you must have seen this coming, this ruling from the Supreme Court, ever since a federal panel of judges first ordered the state to get the prison population down. So was it a surprise, the ruling yesterday?
ANDERSON: Well, yes, it was. I agree with dissenting Justice Scalia, that, quote, terrible things are gonna happen as a consequence of this outrageous order. We could do better in California, and we should do better in California. But to have a federally sponsored jailbreak is absolutely outrageous.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm wondering what can we do in California so that is it doesn't become a public safety? In other words, Governor Brown has gotten legislative approval on I realignment plan for state prisoners, transferring them to county jails. What's your opinion of that plan?
ANDERSON: Well, of course there was a public safety trailer that passed both houses and went to the governor, AB109. And in that, some of of the prisoners that they're talking about, if you committed a cruel and inhumane child abuse resulting in traumatic condition, you would be qualified for it. If you knowingly sold firearms to criminal straining members, you could be released. If you sold a controlled substance to a minor under 14 in a public park, you're up for early release. If you exploded a destructive device or committed arson near a church, school, healthcare facility, you also would be eligible. You know, I heard Bonnie Dumanis, and she does a terrific job, so does sheriff gore. But you can't expect law enforcement to be prepared for an onslaught that the Supreme Court has ordered. So I'm suggesting that Californian, to law abiding Californians, to get a dog, buy a gun, and install a home alarm system. This is absolutely outrageous, we haven't built any new prison, we haven't addressed this issue head on, and now we're putting people's lives in peril. We have illegals in our prisons that are a federal issue, not a state issue, and we need to amp up the pressure on the federal government to move those prisoners to federal facilities and free up the space for our own state prisoners.
CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, isn't there a more reasonable plan B in your back pocket there, senator, instead of buying a gun and getting a dog?
ANDERSON: Well, I'm sorry. If you have treated a child in a cruel or inhumane way and you're gonna be early released or released into my neighborhood, I don't know how -- I don't know how anybody can find that acceptable.
CAVANAUGH: Has the -- you're on the subcommittee on public safety, have you had any hearings as to the possibility of this prison release program that releasing a lot of prisons to county facilities to other facilities around the state? What's the kind of -- what kind of testimony have you gotten about what that would do?
ANDERSON: Well, this debate's been going -- I got elected to the assembly four years ago, and I served four years in the assembly, and this debate was going when I first got elected, and yet nothing had been done by the majority party. Too often my colleagues are more concerned about being politically correct than actually addressing the problem. The illegals in our prisons, we've received estimates, they could be high as 30 percent, which would be more than the 10 percent overcrowding, yet there seems to be mow urgency among my colleagues to put pressure on the federal government to shift those illegals into federal facilities as required by law. We've not built any facilities, we've not addressed this in any meaningful way, and we've allowed it to just occur. And I'm glad that we have two years to move forward to address the problems, but we've gotta get over this political correctness and actually do right by the constituents.
CAVANAUGH: Now, have you been thinking about the idea of building more prisons? Apparently we couldn't do that within the two year time period, but any idea of how many more prisons would have to be built, how much that would cost California?
ANDERSON: Well, if we shifted the illegal prisons that we have, the illegals that have committed felonies in our prisons right now to the federal government, because illegal immigration's a federal issue, if we shifted those prisons, we may not have to build any new prisons. But any time we've made any attempt to move forward with it, it's died on party line vote. And so at some time my colleagues are gonna have to step up, get over the political correctness, and do right by all California apps. In that interim time, I would urge everybody to get a dog, buy a gun, and install a home living room system. Because your life could be in peril. We're talking with releasing as many as 46 thousand prisons. And you heard from me earlier that some of these people are folks that normally sold firearms to criminal straining members, these are people that had burned a cross or defaced a property with a swatsticka, these are people that have treated children in an inhumane way resulting in a traumatic condition. These people deserve to be punished. They shouldn't be out in our streets.
CAVANAUGH: Just a quick question to you because we're running out of time, senator Anderson, you've said get a dog, buy a gun and get an alarm system a couple of time, is this just rhetoric or do you really mean that?
ANDERSON: I absolutely mean it. We've allowed this to occur, and we deserve better. When you have somebody who has used an explosive device or committed arson near a church, school or healthcare facility, I don't want them in my community. I want them to serve their full term. And unless my colleagues get serious about this, and get over the political correctness of it all, the next best thing you can do is get a dog, buy a gun and purchase a home alarm system. And it's a sad down in California when we can't protect our citizens. There's only three things that state government should be focused on.
CAVANAUGH: I can't go there right now, we're out of time.
ANDERSON: All right.
CAVANAUGH: But it certainly hasn't been boring. Thank you so much.
ANDERSON: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with state senator Joe Anderson of El Cajon.