Some local police frustrated by prisoner realignment

January 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The state's prison realignment program is only a few months old, but already city and county agencies are feeling the pinch. The program moves low-level offenders out of the state prisons and into county jails.

In three years, 30,000 so-called, low-level criminals will be a part of this program. It's a move some on the local level call a dangerous one.

To say Gilroy police Sgt. Joseph Deras is frustrated is an understatement. That's because of two particular men.

"Here are two guys that we again personally know that they're quite violent. They are continuing this pattern of behavior in our community," said Deras.

They are part of the state's prisoner realignment program called AB 109. In October, California transferred lower level offenders out of the prisons and into county jails to ease overcrowding.

Some, according to Deras, are even released early into the community. James Bob Lucio and Angel Espinoza were released and a few days later, they're back in jail. One led police on a high-speed chase after a carjacking and just Wednesday, police found Lucio in a stolen car, with methamphetamine.

"We're adding criminals back into our community, so we just don't have the added resources to monitor them. So at some point, something's got to give," said Deras.

For those in the Gilroy Police Department, AB109 is a bad idea.

"It's a very good policy and it's a very good law," said Donald Specter, the director of the Prison Law Office.

Specter who pushed for AB109 believes in the concept of moving offenders like car thieves, burglars, forgers, and drug sellers into the county's care. It's supposed to save the state $1.5 billion and help the 70-percent recidivism rate. Specter isn't so sure the Gilroy arrests can be blamed on the new system.

"Releasing additional prisoners from prison or jail a few months or a few weeks early does nothing to the crime rate at all," said Specter.

While city and county agencies are still getting used to managing more, they admit they're worried.

"We worry about the safety of our neighborhoods and our communities and even one offense beyond what we had last year is one too many," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese.

The counties were given money to prepare for AB 109 and some did use the money to create prisoner rehab programs for prisoners, while others used the money to hire more officers.