Mayor Oppose Early Prisoner Release
By Christina Villacorte City News Service
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police Chief William Bratton Tuesday opposed a proposal in the Legislature to release about 37,000 prison inmates over the next two years, claiming it would lead to an increase in crime in Los Angeles.
Seeking to cut $1.2 billion from the correctional budget, the Assembly and Senate have been considering releasing low-risk inmates to comply with federal court orders to reduce overcrowding at state prisons.
State prisons house more than 160,000 convicts. Spending on the prison system has more than doubled over the past decade to about $12 billion this past year.
Bratton said the plan is flawed because it does not provide a safety net for prisoners after their release.
"The idea of (37,000 prisoners) coming back with no increase in drug treatment, a job market with 14 percent unemployment, no likelihood of jobs--what do you think they're going to do?" Bratton said.
He added, "nobody is prepared to deal with (37,000 prisoners) coming out."
Villaraigosa warned that as many as 36 percent of the prisoners--more than 13,000--could end up in L.A. "To just release folks without a safety net could create chaos," he said.
"I've never said that I oppose releasing inmates who are no longer a threat to society. There are some people that could and should be rehabilitated, but there should be a plan for them," Villaraigosa said. "What we're against is a plan that doesn't take into account the needs and resources of local jurisdictions, a plan that doesn't have the appropriate funding for jobs, for drug counseling, for medical treatment."
Cmdr. Kyle Jackson, who heads the LAPD's criminal gang homicide group, said statistics from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation show that 70 percent of parolees are re-arrested within three years of their release. The recidivism rate is among the highest anywhere.
Villaraigosa, a former Assembly Speaker himself, said he intends to continue talking with his former colleagues in the Legislature until they come up with a better strategy.
"They've got to listen to us, because ultimately we're the ones who are going to have to deal with the challenge," he said.
Villaraigosa stressed the need to continue increasing the ranks of the LAPD.
"Releasing (37,000 prisoners) without a plan--when 36 percent of them are coming here--is going to have an impact on the streets of Los Angeles; so right now is not the time to backtrack on the commitment we made to the people of this city when we said we are going to grow the police department."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said releasing low-level offenders would refocus resources on the state's most violent criminals. However, several state lawmakers have been hesitant to sign on, fearing that voters would perceive them as being soft on crime.