Transcript: Assemblyman Al Murastuchi’s Q&A with LAO analyst Drew Soderborg on the increase in California’s prison population before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblyman Al Murastuchi’s (D-Torrance) Q&A with Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office, on the contributing factors to the increase and decline in California’s prison population. The hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment was held on Oct. 21, 2013:

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance):
One aspect of Realignment that I don’t hear acknowledged as much as I think it should be acknowledged is that the main purpose of Realignment was to reduce the state prison population, correct? But that was met with an already overcrowded county jail situation. And so for example, Los Angeles County, it’s my understanding that right now that criminal defendants are serving less than 10% of their sentences in county jails. Is that consistent with what you’ve observed?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Well, I haven’t looked at the statistics specifically. It’s definitely the case that there are counties in which offenders are serving a very small portion of their sentencing in jail because of overcrowding. It’s important to note that overcrowding in the county jail system existed prior to Realignment but certainly the implementation of Realignment has increased the extent to which overcrowding has been occurring in the county jail system.

Counties have a lot of different levelers to try to address that. Some have been using early release. Others are relying on things like alternative incarceration programs, electronic monitoring, and also the use of split sentences. A split sentence is, of course, where an offender serves a portion of their sentence in county jail and then the concluding portion of their sentence is served in the community under the supervision of probation. And the extent to which counties have made use of split sentence has varied widely.

So Los Angeles happens to be a county that – I don’t know what the current statistics are but the last time I checked only about 5% of offenders were getting split sentences whereas statewide the average is closer to about 20%.

Some of that has to do, though, with the roll-out of Realignment. At this point, a split sentence is still very new. Judges are going to need time to get comfortable with it before they start making use of it. But that might be one way to address some of these problems.

But overcrowding existed before Realignment so inevitably shifting more responsibility adds to the issues in the counties that were experiencing that.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance):
Has the LAO compiled the percentages of the sentences that inmates are serving in different counties?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
At this point, I don’t believe that information is being collected on a systematic basis. That’s one of – the length of stay information is one of the key pieces of data that we’re really lacking on a statewide level. I think it might be possible for some counties to report that information, but there are other counties whose data systems don’t allow them to report it and it would just be cost prohibitive for them to begin tracking it. But that’s certainly something that would be useful for the state to know more about.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance):
I guess I raised because, you know, it goes to the question of what is most effective at promoting public safety. I mean, the concern from the law enforcement that I have been speaking with is that if – the more organized criminals like gang members, they know how much time they’re serving especially in county jail, and so when they see their gang members who commit especially property crime, and they see them only serving 10% or less of their time in county jail, there is the fear, if not, the perception that it is become an incentive and it has become part of at least what seems to be documented in the last two years of an uptick in property crimes in residential burglaries and commercial burglaries. And while we’re talking about this overall strategy in how do we promote public safety most effectively given the limited resources, does the LAO have an opinion as to the impact of criminal convicts only serving a fraction of their sentences?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
It’s difficult to know how that impacts crime, especially following Realignment. Realignment has only been implemented for relatively short amount of time. About a couple of years. So at this point, it’s really difficult to assess whether Realignment is responsible for the recent uptick in crime we’ve experienced.

It’s important to note that there’s states outside of California that also experienced an uptick in crime. So at this point, there just isn’t enough information to be able to conclude definitively whether Realignment has contributed to that or whether there are other large macroscopic factors that are really to blame for the increase in crime.

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