Mission San Fernando
On to today’s California headlines:
California’s budget, already on shaky footing with tax revenues coming in lower than forecast, was hit with three new problems Wednesday when advocates for public schools, the developmentally disabled and cities filed separate lawsuits challenging the spending plan.
The California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators and three school districts claim the budget shortchanges schools by $2.1 billion, while service providers for people with developmental disabilities argue that a $91 million cut runs afoul of federal and state mandates.
The League of California Cities filed a suit challenging a shift of $130 million in vehicle license fee money from cities to counties to pay for realignment, the criminal justice overhaul engineered by the governor to reduce the prison population.
If successful, the lawsuits would add even more uncertainty to the state’s fiscal situation and further limit the ability of lawmakers and the governor to make cuts.
The school lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, was joined by school districts in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Turlock (Stanislaus County).
Every month, Ann Ravel gets a paycheck from her salary as chairwoman of California’s ethics watchdog agency and a second, bigger check from her public pension as a retiree.
The double payments, which total more than $305,000 a year, represent the kind of costly pension perk that Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to rein in.
But since he assumed office nine months ago, Brown has appointed numerous officials like Ravel to state jobs in which they can simultaneously collect a full salary and a public pension.
One is earning $234,000 in combined wages and pension to serve on California’s state’s unemployment board, which the governor wants to eliminate. Six Brown appointees to the state’s parole board are layering wages atop pensions.
“That should be against the law,” said Marcia Fritz, a certified public accountant and president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, which seeks to end what she called “double dipping.”
“It violates the whole premise of having a retirement program,” she said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, responding to federal investigations of jailhouse abuse, for the first time offered a detailed account of an FBI undercover sting that caught one of his deputies allegedly smuggling a cellphone to an inmate.
In an interview with The Times, Baca revealed that the inmate working as an FBI informant inside Men’s Central Jail was using pay phones there to contact agents probing allegations of deputy misconduct. The agents tried to dissuade him from using a jailhouse line, telling him they could be monitored by sheriff’s officials. The agents promised to get their informant a cellphone, Baca said, and the inmate volunteered that he knew of a deputy willing to smuggle contraband for cash.
Baca confirmed that federal authorities targeted that deputy in an undercover sting. FBI operatives brought $1,500, Baca said, and the deputy agreed to go through with the deal.
Baca said the cellphone was delivered, and the inmate used it to contact his federal handlers and another source whom Baca declined to identify.
Later, when sheriff’s officials searched the inmate and found the phone, they also discovered a hand-written note listing names of deputies. Baca said the informant had been gathering the names of deputies thought to have used excessive force against inmates.Baca suspected the inmate was compiling the list for the FBI.
After the FBI ensnared the deputy who allegedly smuggled the cellphone, agents showed up at his home and tried to “flip him” — get him to work for them as an informant, Baca said. The deputy, identified by sources as Gilbert Michel, 38, was placed on leave by sheriff’s officials sometime after the cellphone was discovered. Michel, who has since resigned, could not be reached for comment.
The shift of low-level offenders from county to state control was in part a consequence of the war on drugs, which increased penalties for drug offenses, said criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind.
The state has understood the need to reduce the prison population for some time, Brown said. Ten commissions have produced reports on the best way to achieve that reduction, expertise reflected in the realignment legislation, he said.
Leaving low-level offenders in the county’s care does make sense, said Barry Krisberg, Director of Research and Policy at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley law school.
The county provides services like addiction counseling and housing assistance, and jail time instead of prison time means inmates can be closer to their families – that’s the kind of help people need for successful reentry, Krisberg said.
But sending people to county corrections is not a panacea for crime or California’s crime policy problems, Krisberg cautions. Pitfalls of realignment are significant and include a lack of oversight and evaluation and a lack of good data on the methods being used to manage offenders in the county.
No state agency is overseeing realignment plans and money, Krisberg said.
“In the old days, we used to call this ‘put the money on the stump and run,’” Krisberg said.
Prison realignment legislation encourages counties to approach corrections differently than the state by avoiding substituting jails for prisons and relying on best practices in alternatives to incarceration instead. Some of the practices encouraged by realignment include flash incarceration, home detention and day reporting.
Generally, counties will differ in their plans, especially in how they use treatment and sanctions other than jail as a response to low-level offenders, said Dean Misczynski, adjunct policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.
“There are 58 counties,” Misczynski said. “We are going to see 58 ways of implementing this plan.”
The data supporting best practices is also weak, Misczynski and Krisberg said. Evaluating the counties’ approaches is essential to understanding the effects of prison realignment, both experts said. However, there is no funding in the legislation specifically earmarked for data collection, Misczynski said.
Enjoy your morning!