Be Extra Vigilant and Work Safe--How Realignment Affects You
In 2011, Assembly Bills 109 and 117 were signed into law by Governor Brown as part of an effort to run the state budget more efficiently. These bills were promoted under the banner of reduction of recidivism (the revolving door of low-level offenders returning to state prison at the expense of state taxpayers). This rigorous (and rather sudden) reorganization of the state prison system implemented Section 35 (a)(2) of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution, which states: "The protection of the public safety is the first responsibility of local government, and local officials have an obligation to give priority to the provision of adequate public safety services." This mandate and highly publicized controversies about state prison overcrowding and health care inadequacies were major incentives to simply give "low-level" offenders back to the various county corrections systems.
Unfortunately, the negative effects of this realignment have significantly impacted local communities and their police. Local jails, already crowded with both violent and non-violent offenders, were required to take thousands of state prisoners back to the counties where they were prosecuted. Realignment has left county jails across the state so overcrowded that low-level inmates have been released early. Some community leaders assert that as a result, many counties are reporting a significant increase in property crimes and violent street crime. Studies show that many of those released early become repeat offenders, running the spectrum of minor to serious crimes like rape, robbery and murder.
In the face of almost universal reductions in the size of police departments for most cities and counties in the state over the last five years, the burden is reaching critical mass. It is hard to say if these dire consequences were contemplated by the state government prior to realignment. For sure, it was widely known that local jails were at capacity long before this effort, and the apparent failure to identify and mitigate the problem at the state level is further evidence that this trend will continue. Local communities and their police departments will have to contend with this problem for the foreseeable future.
The same problem exists in local jails, in that budgets for corrections personnel generally have not increased. That's a simple formula for placing existing corrections officers and custodial employees at extreme risk of injury. Incidents of "gassing" (inmates throwing bodily fluids at corrections officers) are up, and the cost of monitoring the prospect of infectious disease and other injuries caused by unruly inmates is profound.
The good news is the economy is improving, and many local cities are hiring as fast as the labor force will allow, and as budgets permit. However, recruitment efforts take time, and it is very hard to convince many local cities to budget for adequate policing while their economies are slow to recover.
The attorneys at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK) remain concerned about the safety of police and correctional officers due to the increased injury risk in light of the issues discussed here. We have developed a series of educational tools to ensure that safety officers are fully informed of their rights if they are injured on the job. These include the public safety pages of our website, geklaw.com, and our E-book. The latter utilizes not only the written word, but also videos and interactive forms to enhance GEK's fight for justice on behalf of those who have been injured on or off the job. Further, we are available for free consultations or educational seminars regarding rights for those injured on the job.
Be vigilant and work safe.