CVUC Legislative Update – July 2009**IMPORTANT BUDGET INFORMATION!**

California Budget Update & Public Safety Implications

Last week the California Legislature passed a budget package that was signed by the Governor this Tuesday.  The package is an $84.6 billion spending plan that provides for a $500 million reserve to be used in times of fiscal urgency.  

One of the most contentious budget debates centered on public safety/corrections budget cuts.  Under the Governor and Democratic leadership’s proposal, up to 27,000 offenders could be released early under a variety of detrimental policy changes to save the state up to $1.2 billion. The components of the plan as they’ve been proposed by the Schwarzenegger Administration include (per the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation’s documentation):

New Population and Budget Reduction Proposals – Through the following proposals, the Schwarzenegger Administration aims to reduce population by 19,000, and costs by an estimated $400 million:

  • Adjusting Property Crime Thresholds and/or Changing Crimes to Misdemeanors:  The Administration proposes to change four misdemeanor/felonies, or “wobblers,” punishable by either imprisonment in state prison or in county jail, to straight misdemeanors.  These crimes include two types of petty theft, receiving stolen property and writing bad checks.   In addition, the Administration proposes updating the monetary threshold that determines whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony from $400 to $2,500.  For vehicle theft where there is no monetary threshold specified a $2,500 threshold would be added.  A summary of changes:
    • Writing Bad Checks. 
    • Petty theft crimes (currently punishable as a felony if the person has a prior petty theft conviction; proposal would make all petty thefts punishable as misdemeanors). 
    • Grand theft crimes raised to $2,500. Vehicle theft crimes establish $2,500 threshold. 
    • Receiving stolen property crimes.
    • Alternative Custody Options for Lower-Risk Offenders:  The Schwarzenegger Administration proposes alternative custody options for lower-risk offenders to reduce costs and strain on the state prison system.  Certain offenders would be eligible to serve the last 12 months of their sentence under house arrest with GPS monitoring.  House arrest may include placement in a residence, local program, hospital or treatment center.  Detailed criteria will be established through the regulatory process, thereby taking full advantage of input by law enforcement, victims groups and other concerned citizens. Statutorily eligible inmates include:  
      • Inmates with 12 months or less remaining to serve
      • Elderly inmates
      • Medically infirm inmates 
        • Because many vicious crimes against children and others are classified as “non-violent” or “non-serious” – likely the “lower-risk offenders” the Administration refers to – in the state penal code, the proposal could allow the early release of felons convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor; incest; pimping a minor, pandering a minor or providing a minor for lewd purposes and other such crimes if not crafted carefully.  Furthermore, we must ensure that those offenders that would be considered “lower-risk” are not considered such merely based on their last offense.  It is important to look at the offender’s history; in order to be sent to prison, more serious/violent offenses will have been committed by the offender.
        • CVUC would urge you to consider the recent Los Angeles case of Lily Burk who was brutally murdered.  The suspected offender was last convicted for a non-serious/non-violent offense and sent to a rehabilitation center.  Depending on the details of this proposal, many offenders like Charles Samuel whose record shows and increasing level of serious crimes could be freed 12 months early.  (See the following articles)
          • Collision of 2 L.A. worlds may have led to girl’s death,0,5539742,print.story
          • Suspect in Lily Burk slaying had gained pass out of rehab center hours before alleged abduction  
          • Commutation of Select Deportable Criminal Aliens:  The California Constitution provides the Governor the authority to commute prison sentences.  For inmates who have been convicted of two or more felonies, the Governor’s commutation must be supported by the California Supreme Court.  This plan involves those inmates who are currently serving prison sentences but who have been identified by federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials for deportation from the United States upon their release from state prison.  If their sentences were commuted, these inmates would purportedly be taken into federal custody to be deported to their country of origin.  The Governor and Secretary would review these on a case-by-case basis starting with lowest level offenders.  The first group to be considered will by those inmates who have never committed a violent or sex offense and who have only felony in their entire adult criminal history.
            • CVUC is highly concerned with the application of this proposal and its potential for dire consequences.  CVUC has not seen the specifics of what “targeted commutations” means in terms of scope or offense. The commutation of an offender’s sentence – whether they are documented or not – would be a blow to their victim’s sense of justice. 
            • Furthermore, the Administration is presuming that the Supreme Court will approve the commutation and that ICE will actually take immediate steps to deport these individuals without a day spent on the streets – there is no assurance at this time that we’ve been made aware of that this will indeed be the case.  To the contrary, it is not believed that the Supreme Court will authorize the Governor to commute these sentences (see Article 5, Section 8 of the State Constitution). 

Program Funding Reduction – The Schwarzenegger Administration is proposing to eliminate funding for some inmate and parole programs that are not court-ordered.  These proposals are estimated to reduce costs by over $175 million.  Impacted programs include a range of rehabilitative services, such as substance abuse counseling, vocational training, and educational programs.  However, the Department is attempting to take alternative approaches to mitigate the reduction in funding.  For example, CDCR will purportedly utilize a validated risk/needs assessment tool to focus resources on the inmates with the greatest risk to recidivate. This tool will also allow CDCR to place the right inmate in the needed program for only the prescribed period of time.  In addition, CDCR will utilize distance learning, inmate tutors and fully-licensed inmate substance abuse counselors to greatly reduce the cost of providing education and substance abuse counseling. 

Previous Budget Reduction Proposals – In April CDCR developed legislative proposals to address an unallocated cut to the agency budget ordered in the 2009-10 Budget Act.  They could reduce CDCR’s Average Daily Population by 8,000 inmates through a shift of funds from parole supervision of low level offenders to those who are serious and violent, and other cost savings.  The combination of the following general components are estimated to result in $410 million in savings in 2009-10. 

  • Risk-Based Parole Supervision and Lower Agent Caseloads:  Active parole supervision would be targeted to offenders with a serious or violent commitment history, sex offenders, and those assessed as high risk.  The remaining offenders, largely low and moderate risk, nonviolent felons, would be placed on administrative or “banked” parole, but would continue to be subject to warrantless search and seizure by local police . CDCR would then reduce parole caseload ratios from 70-1 to 45-1.  This would purportedly improve supervision and services for those with the highest risk of reoffending.  There would also be additional parole resources directed toward Fugitive Apprehension Teams and gang suppression units, and an increase of GPS units on high risk parolees in order to increase supervision.   
    • CVUC is highly concerned with this approach to parole.  While we do not disagree that the parole system is broken, placing all “lower-risk” offenders on the streets without any supervision whatsoever is dangerous.  California’s current recidivism rate is roughly 70%.  Although many of the instances of recidivism may be minor parole violations, many of them are more serious crimes that are committed by offenders that have shown an increasing level of serious/violent crime. 
    • Furthermore, the Schwarzenegger Administration already undertook such an approach that they later retracted as a result of high profile cases of parolees on summary parole going on to commit more serious crimes and even murder.  Why are we now attempting to reinstitute a policy that was already shown to be flawed and that was already retracted once? 
    • Staff Efficiencies through Elimination of Positions at DJJ and Headquarters:  The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will streamline and eliminate positions in 2009-10, with a comprehensive staffing analysis expected to allow for the elimination of more positions in coming budget years.  Positions will also be reduced at CDCR headquarters in Sacramento through increasing efficiencies. 
    • Positive Behavior and Rehabilitation Program Credit Enhancements:  Inmates who participate in and complete rehabilitation programs such as GED, college degrees, and vocational training, will be allowed to earn additional sentence credits.  Credits will also be increased for discipline-free time served in county jail, during parole violations, or while waiting for programs to become available. 
    • Using GPS as Alternative Sanction:  Parolees who commit certain parole violations will be eligible for placement on GPS supervision as an alternative to returning them to prison. 

Additional Operational Savings – In addition to the new and previous budget and population reduction plans, the Schwarzenegger Administration will ask CDCR to come up with $100 million in unspecified operational savings, along with $48 million in savings by eliminating the Special Repairs Budget, $20 million by shifting AB 900 funds to existing capital outlays and $50 million in reductions to the contract medical budget. 

The Governor and Democratic Leadership ultimately had to pull back on including these in the final budget agreement due to significant opposition by law enforcement and Crime Victims United of California.  While the specific proposals were not included in the budget package – a major victory for law enforcement, the victim community and general public – the Legislature and Governor did include the unallocated savings from the proposals in the approved budget and opted to push the debate regarding the specific proposals to August when the Legislature returns from Summer Recess.  That said, the fight is not over – not by far.  

CVUC is currently ramping up for the public safety budget fight in August.  The Legislature and Governor currently have a $1.2 billion unallocated cut they must address in order to obtain the actual savings.  CVUC has worked hard over the last few years to identify areas where savings can be found in order to avoid having to institute these detrimental policies.  We are continuing to urge the Legislature and Schwarzenegger Administration to take these proposals seriously as they would achieve the savings and help reform the system in positive, proactive ways.   

CVUC is highly concerned about the fight, particularly as law enforcement groups appear to be backing off their initial opposition – even going as far as supporting the package in part.  The key reasoning for law enforcement backing away from their oppositional stance appears to be related to the provision of alternative custody options and sanctions at the local level.  With a number of local facilities under federally mandated population caps and already at those levels, they are often forced to release some offenders or avoid booking them due to space constraints.  In order to ensure they are able to retain offenders in custody, they have been in dire need of alternative custody options to address the constraints associated with the Marsy’s Law provision that disallowed early release.  Although local law enforcement does not want to merely release offenders, there has been concern over the interpretation of the Marsy’s Law provision and the ability to utilize other custody options that may be a release from the jail or prison, but not from custody.  CVUC understands this need and has been generally supportive of providing alternative options to local law enforcement; however, this only gets us so far in addressing population issues and public safety concerns.  Alternative custody options and sanctions are important, but only as effective as the local law enforcement staff available to monitor and scrutinize offenders’ behavior.  It is by no means a solution to the entire problem, particularly as local law enforcement agencies have to cut back on their staff due to their own budget constraints. 

Although the passage of the budget package is somewhat positive news from a fiscal standpoint and will allow California to begin paying its bills rather than continuing to issue IOUs, Californians will certainly feel the effects of the cuts that will likely add to fiscal concerns later in the year.  That paired with projections for continuing shortfalls in out-years and failure to approve all of the budgetary proposals will result in Legislative leadership and the Governor having to go back to the table before the fiscal year is over. 

Stay tuned as CVUC prepares for the public safety fight in August…

Harriet Salarno – Chair
Crime Victims United of California