By Michele Hanisee
Trust us, they said. We know what’s good for you and the state of California.
That was the message hawked by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature when they pushed and passed a variety of initiatives that gutted the criminal justice system. They did so by weakening parole (AB 109), downgrading a host of crimes to misdemeanors (Prop. 47), and making dangerous felons eligible for release when they have served just a portion of their sentences (Prop. 57).
Governor Brown and his allies sold these laughably flawed programs by cynically invoking compassion, fiscal prudence and an obligation to open prison gates to comply with court orders.
Crime began rising throughout the state shortly after the dismantling of our safety net began. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that state voters should not have bought the snake oil from its peddlers.
But what we don’t have is critical, big-picture data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Data, for example, on the rate at which felon parolees return to prison. Data on what crimes the prisoners committed. Data on the overall recidivism rate.
The CDCR used to dutifully post the “Recidivism Rate Report” which contained valuable information in a prominent place on its website. But in 2012 and 2013 – not long after AB 109 became law – it stopped. While not one major media outlet questioned this abrupt end of public information, the question everyone must ask is why? Would publication of the data in an easy to find place expose issues in prison realignment?
The CDCR may argue that while they have not published a report in the same format as they did prior to AB 109, that they report on prison population changes and current makeup in reports like the one titled, An update to the future of California Corrections. One would first have to find the report buried on an obscure page of their website. Then, one would have to carefully review the 57-page report to find on pages 27-29 the information that the CDCR used to post in an obvious location. While other areas of the report contain additional information about the population, similar to the 2013 and earlier reports, one has to wonder why the CDCR stopped assembling the critical information in an easily accessible format, but decided instead to bury the information in various other publications.
We do know that the prison population did not include those whose supervision was transferred to County Probation Departments. Convicted felons like Michael C. Mejia, the gang member with priors for robbery and grand theft auto, and the suspect in last month’s murder of Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer. A beneficiary of AB 109, as documented by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, “the killer had been on parole following his release from prison in April 2016, and in the next few months violated parole-five separate times in seven months-for possessing drugs and failing to comply with police officers.
But we don’t know what the larger data sets show about who is in prison, for what crimes, and who has been returned to prison on parole violations. The CDCR, which promises “A safer California through correctional excellence” no longer posts the raw data on their website, which raises questions.
When the Governor and Legislature ask state voters to blindly trust them because they know what’s best for us, the least they can do is require the CDCR to post information that allows us to judge their statements through the prison of hard, clear data-data they posted year after year until after AB 109 went into full effect.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.