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Crime

Teflon Sheriff Lee Baca Can Now Decide Inmate Sentences: D.A. Steve Cooley Concerned About More Bad Guys on L.A. Streets

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Tue, Nov 15, 2011 at 12:38 PM

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D.A. Steve Cooley is not liking 'realignment.'
If you think Sheriff Lee Baca's L.A. County Jails are a mess now, what with years'-old allegations of deputies beating inmates and a reported system of problem cops being assigned to lockup duty, just wait.

You see, under California's inmate-reducing "public safety realignment" program, the last word on sentences for some convicts won't be in the hands of the judges. It'll be in the hands of the Teflon sheriff -- Lee Baca. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the matter today.

Of course, cops aren't supposed to decide justice, just suggest it. But that's what's happening before your very eyes.

Consider a guy like Conrad Murray, just-convicted in the manslaughter death of Michael Jackson: He would normally see a maximum of four years behind bars. Even if the judge gives him two -- a state prison term no less -- he'll be kicked down to County Jail.

The realignment program seeks to remedy overcrowding (per a U.S. Supreme Court order). But County Jail is overcrowded too. So, while pawning prisoners off on local jurisdictions would technically clear the state's books, it doesn't necessarily fix the problem.

Because of L.A. County's bursting population, a guy like Murray could see no time behind bars, at least theoretically (he's scheduled to be sentenced at the end of the month).

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley has been making noise about the problem, now that it's finally upon us (the realignment, under state laws AB 109 and AB 117, began last month).

He doesn't blame Lee Baca, an elected official who seems to be of Cooley's ilk.

"It's not just about how Lee Baca manages it," Cooley tells the Weekly. "It's about AB 109 essentially being a fool's errand ... But it does give the sheriff a tremendous amount of power."

He explains:

I'm suggesting that the measurable crime rate is going to spike when literally in L.A. County well over 10,000 people who should be in are going to be out. Any assertion that the county jail system can manage the incarceration is a figment of someone's imagination.

There's going to be approximately 8,000 individuals sent to state prison -- non-violent, non-serious, non-registerable sex offenders -- that will by law will have to serve their sentences locally. The current county jail system does not have the capacity to handle that under even optimistic, rosy scenarios.

And so?

The alternative is greatly expanding early release to alternative custodial settings -- day centers, house arrest, rehabilitation, ankle bracelets. They will be credited as if they're in state prison.

It's possible such a scenario could apply, for example, to Conrad Murray, Cooley says:

It's very possible. Under provisions of 109 he might very well be engaged in alternative custodial settings. Let's see what the sheriff does. I don't want him to be the poster child. But he will he apply whatever mystery early release standards he has.

Cooley wants the Board of Supervisors to nix any notion of allowing the sheriff to release pretrial suspects. If a suspect can't post bail, he's held, but Cooley argues that the Board can, if it so votes, allow Baca to set them free anyway under realignment.

Cooley:

Shifting responsibility from the courts to the sheriff to is something that I think represents an inappropriate shift of historic responsibility from the judiciary to the executive branch. The Board of Supervisors can actually grant the authority to a sheriff to release individuals who are in jail on a pretail basis. The sheriff has suggested that, in order to manage his jail, he might have to engage in that. We are going to oppose it.

(For the state's own sometimes opposing take on realignment, read more here).

[@dennisjromero/djromero@laweekly.com/@LAWeeklyNews]

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