It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, was it? In 2011, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata that California must reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons, overcrowding so severe that the Court — or five members of it, anyway — found that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment and thus violated the Eighth Amendment. The “Brown” of the case is California Governor Jerry Brown, who when faced with the predictably grim prospects demanded by the decision, saw through the legislation and implementation of what has been labeled “Public Safety Realignment.” This innocuous term is of course government-speak for “realigning” people out of prison where they belong and onto the streets of California’s cities, with the greatest share of them coming to roost in and around Los Angeles.
It’s impolite to say “I told you so,” but sometimes good manners must give way to good sense. I’ve visited this topic on three previous occasions here on PJ Media, in each case referring to the predictable consequences of failing to punish people for proscribed conduct. Today, fewer felons are in California’s prisons, perhaps making life a bit more tolerable for those who are so confined, but making life all the more intolerable for the rest of us. In 2011, 50,678 people were sent to state prison in California. The following year, after all that “realignment” started happening, the number fell to 33,990.
Though Governor Brown and the lesser lights of California politics have sought to put a glad face on what has happened since, the inescapable truth is that crime in California, after years of decline, is on the rise once again.
For just one example, look at the website of the California State Department of Justice, on which appears a chart depicting trends in violent and property crimes for the last 30 years (a period that happens to roughly coincide with my career as a police officer). Both lines on the graph indicate a fairly consistent downward trend in crime — that is, until one looks at 2012, when both lines ticked upward.
What could have happened in 2011 that explains this? Puzzling.
Here in Los Angeles the “cascade effect” I wrote about in October 2011 is manifested in increased demands on the LAPD. The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the number of police officers pulled from patrol duties to monitor the roughly 5,400 ex-convicts in the city who, prior to realignment, would have been supervised by state parole officers. Between 160 and 170 police officers are now assigned to these duties, enough to fill at least 80 patrol cars.
And these officers are serving to prove the folly of realignment and to bear out the dire predictions of the dissenters in Brown v. Plata. As I noted here in a May 2011 column, Justice Samuel Alito alluded to a previous effort to have federal judges govern state prisons. He wrote:
In the early 1990s, federal courts enforced a cap on the number of inmates in the Philadelphia prison system, and thousands of inmates were set free. Although efforts were made to release only those prisoners who were least likely to commit violent crimes, that attempt was spectacularly unsuccessful. During an 18-month period, the Philadelphia police rearrested thousands of these prisoners for committing 9,732 new crimes. Those defendants were charged with 79 murders, 90 rapes, 1,113 assaults, 959 robberies, 701 burglaries, and 2,748 thefts, not to mention thousands of drug offenses.
So it is here in Los Angeles. I have not seen a breakdown of the crimes committed by the 5,400 released felons in Los Angeles, but in an August 9 report for the civilian police commission, the LAPD noted that officers had arrested 3,075 of them, some more than once.
As is the case in California as a whole, the new state of affairs is beginning to show in the LAPD’s crime numbers. Although all types of crime continue to fall on a city-wide basis, in some parts of town the picture is not so rosy. As of August 17, seven of the city’s 21 patrol stations had seen increases in homicides from a year ago. The LAPD’s Central Division, for example, is home to the city and county governments and to many of Southern California’s major banks and law firms, but it also has the city’s highest concentration of ex-convicts. Last year in Central there had been but one murder as of this time; this year there have been five. In Southwest Division, home to the University of Southern California, there have been 18 murders so far this year compared with ten a year ago.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone with the merest understanding of law enforcement issues. Fewer criminals in prison means more criminals on the streets, and they’re not out there collecting for the Red Cross. The crime wave of the late 1980s and early 1990s brought the backlash of three-strikes laws and a push for prison construction in California, the result of which was the long and steady decline in crime that has now sadly been reversed. If the state cannot afford to confine people whose criminal behavior should earn them a stint behind bars, it will pay for that behavior in other ways.
It’s just as simple as that.