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L.A. County seeing high-risk offenders entering its probation system

One year into California's prison realignment program, the county is seeing an unexpected number of high-risk offenders coming under its supervision.

November 30, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Inmates exercise in the yard at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif.
Inmates exercise in the yard at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif. (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

One year into California's state prison realignment program, Los Angeles County is seeing an unexpected number of high-risk offenders coming into its probation system, including some with a history of severe mental illness.

It remains unclear whether realignment — which shifted responsibility for some nonviolent offenders from prisons to county jails and from state parole to county probation — is having an effect on crime rates. But a report by a county advisory body found that a majority of state prison inmates who have been released to county probation are at a high risk of reoffending.

In the first year of the new system, which took effect in October 2011, 11,136 offenders were released from state prison to Los Angeles County probation. Of those who reported to probation for assessment, 59% were classed as high risk, 40% as medium risk and only 1% as low risk.

The department uses probationers' criminal history and other factors to determine the risk that they will commit new crimes and the resources required to supervise them.

Deputy Chief Reaver Bingham said the department originally projected that 50% of the offenders coming out of state prison would fall into the high-risk category.

And a handful of people previously classified as mentally disordered offenders — people considered dangerous because of mental illness — were downgraded or "decertified" while in state hospitals, making them eligible for county supervision, according to the report issued Thursday by the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee.

County officials said that runs contrary to the spirit of realignment, which was pitched as a money-saving measure for the state that would transfer low-level offenders to less costly county supervision. The committee's report said the decertified mentally disordered offenders "present high public safety risk, present significant placement issues, and consume high levels of resources."

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state corrections department, said the courts, not the department, determine who is decertified and that under the current law, people not classified as mentally disordered who are eligible for realignment are required to go to county supervision.

"It's not for me to say that a given county does or doesn't have the resources to supervise a person who has been decertified," he said.

The committee's report recommended that the county seek legislation to shift back to the state responsibility for probationers formerly designated as mentally disordered offenders as well as "medically fragile" people and prisoners serving long sentences in county jail.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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