We talked to L.A. County D.A. Steve Cooley last week, and he made it clear he's unhappy with the state's “prison realignment” program that will transfer responsibility for low-level offenders to people like L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Baca's department now has more authority than a judge and jury:
It can set criminals free or give them home detention when jails are overcrowded.
But Cooley might have found a work-around:
Knowing that “realignment” will lead to shorter sentences, Cooley will, for lack of a better term, prosecute the shit out of people.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle a big part of Cooley's anti-realignment approach will have him “pushing for the most serious charges to ensure that as many offenders as possible are sentenced to state prison.”
Prison realignment, part of a plan to reduce overcrowding and save money, will send about 8,000 low-level offenders back to L.A. County, where they'll become the problem of Baca's troubled jail system. Some will end up under local probation authorities, too.
Cooley told us this was a recipe for disaster:
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.
UC Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg told the Chronicle that Cooley's approach could negate the whole realignment program, since he's the top dog in California's largest county, and one of the big points of the plan is to get local prosecutors to think more about rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration:
… Once you get to the jurisdictions that are dubious about realignment, that have not bought into rehabilitation as the main goal of the justice system, are we just going to see people gaming the system?
For his part Cooley says he wants his prosecutors to “scour” the records of defendants to make sure the entire book has been thrown at them, so to speak. The L.A. County D.A.'s office is even considering training other jurisdictions on how to get the most out of sentencing.