and probationers must find work in a relatively short time (usually
30 days, although many aren’t released until they can prove they have
work). But the biggest dilemma Los
Angeles County has is who will supervise these newly released ex-offenders.
Los Angeles County Probation Department is under massive scrutiny because
of its failures to properly supervise ex-offenders. So instead of overhauling
the department, L.A. County is considering another solution:
allowing the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department to supervise parolees.
The state legislature thinks it’s a good idea because they can save
some money in the cash-strapped budget. Did the hair just stand up on
your neck (like it did mine when I first heard this)? It should’ve.
This is unprecedented and the first step to us being a police state.
It sounds like a “common sense” solution but is full of constitutional
If done, Los Angeles would be the first county in the nation to do this. No
other county in California, and no other county in the nation has done this
or is doing this. There is a reason there’s a wall between law enforcement,
the Courts and the Justice Department. The very people who sent many
of these parolees away, some under very suspicious - even false circumstances
- would be asked to supervise their release and rehabilitation. I can
imagine sitting across the desk from the officer that arrested me (or
his buddy) and sent me away, and having a great deal of confidence that
the system that may have compromised me once is poised to do it again.
think someone who has broken the law once can’t change, even after it’s
been proven time and time again that people can change for the better
and turn their lives around, police are the last ones to give you that
benefit of the doubt. Not coming out of prison - their biases and suspicions
are too high.
It also opens
another door of possible collusion; judges, prosecutors and law enforcement
officers already have a cozy, near incestuous relationship. One arrests,
one is the trier of fact that determines guilt; the last is the determiner
of penalty. Once law enforcement and criminal justice are out of the
picture, the state (or federal) prison systems hold you until your have
“paid your debt.” Federal or state probations are supposed to evaluate
one without bias on their re-entry and re-assimilation into society.
I’m not convinced law enforcement could be that objective.
California didn’t get into this predicament overnight.
The state made a concentrated effort to divest in education and invest
in prisons, as its primary measure of social control. Don’t educate
them. Lock ’em up and re-lock them when they get out.
In 2006, then
Governor Arnold Schwrazenegger warned that
the state’s prison system was in crisis, as state recidivism was an
alarming 70%, meaning nearly three out of four released inmates return
to prison. That is (still) the highest in the nation. If the United
States of America is a “prison nation” with more
than 2 million people imprisoned, California
is the prison nation’s “capitol state.” California
is the nation’s largest jailer with nearly 180,000 prisoners in its
statewide corrections system, a system that only has some 80,000 plus
The prison industrial
complex thrives in California,
having built 22 new prisons since 1985 while only building ONE new state
university. The prison officer’s union has become one of the most powerful
in the state and those employed at California
prisons are amongst the best compensated in the nation. My point here
is that there was plenty of incentive to overcrowd, even when California didn’t have the money to operate all the prisons it built.
Nearly 60% of
California inmates are in prison for non-violent offenses, and California
death row inmates have the longest appeal process in the nation (nearly
23 years is the average death row inmate’s stay). The Texas
death row appeal process is less than three years.
California’s statewide prison budget is larger than
its education budget. Arnold
called that out on his way out the door, but did little to reverse the
trend. He was going to let inmates out of prison and he wasn’t going
against the prison guard lobby. So the courts had to do what the state
refused to do - prisoners do have some rights, as few as they are. But
now we are forced into a “situation” whereby the poor and disenfranchised
are poised to be victimized again.
County Sheriff, Lee Baca, is a compassionate, reasonable man who has
proven that he can barely make a dent into the abusive culture of his
department. And he won’t be there forever; more the reason not to do
it. I believe both the prisoners and the citizens would have a constitution
challenge if the Board of Supervisors carry
this out. It violates both the rights of the accused AND the rights
Los Angeles County’s best
option is to overhaul the Probation Department. Put it in receivership
like they did the Health Department and Children & Family Services.
But don’t give it to the Sheriffs Department. Parolee supervision will
then become just another blurred line of abused authority.
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist, managing director
Urban Issues Forum
and author of
Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Click
to contact Dr. Samad.