When California state Sen. Jean Fuller (R- Bakersfield) spoke Friday at a Ridgecrest Republican Women's luncheon, she updated a room full of people on one hot-button issue – prison realignment.
Fuller, a strong advocate for reform of the realignment plan, said that with the shifting of state prisoners into county jails, public safety has declined.
As the state faces the possibility of moving thousands more inmates out of the state prison system, she said community correctional facilities like the one in Taft are a better alternative than dumping them on the counties.
"In our area, especially the bigger cities like Bakersfield, and in Tulare County, there is a huge increase in crime," Fuller said.
She said it is largely due to the release of criminals from suddenly overcrowded county jails.
Fuller indicated one flaw in the prison realignment act is the way prisoners are selected for release into county custody.
"The way the law reads is that prisoners are released for the crime they last committed if it is considered non-non-non violent," Fuller said.
Someone who had a violent criminal history, but was last sentenced because of a burglary charge, could be released on the latter without consideration of past crimes.
"They transfer that person from a state prison to a county jail, and is released on probation because the county jails aren't built to hold so many prisoners," Fuller said.
The prison realignment act, a product of Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to comply with federal mandates to ease overcrowding in prisons, is partially responsible for the release of more than 40,000 prisoners.
Despite recent arguments and appeals, Brown and California were ordered by a federal panel to release 10,000 more prisoners by the end of the year.
Fuller pointed out part of the reason for the order is due to the need to relocate prisoners in the Central Valley because they are vulnerable to valley fever.
One prediction Fuller gave about state actions is that those 10,000 prisoners would be moved to three community correctional facilities mothballed by the state, all three of them in Kern County.
Taft's CCF is at the top of the list to be reopened along with Shafter, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary said earlier this month.
"If the guards union agrees with the governor, the state could put the prisoners there and it would be a better solution," Fuller said.
However, funding has always been a problem with the prison realignment act, especially as to how money has been allocated.
Kern County remains on the short end of the stick in terms of funding, she said.
Page 2 of 2 - "The way it works is that prisoners are sent back to the counties that they were arrested in," Fuller said. "Kern County is a law and order county, we don't like our bad guys on the streets, so we sent a lot of them to prison. We got them back."
She said money was doled out partially with mandates, and if counties did not meet those requirements, they received less than others.
Fuller represents four counties – large portions of Kern, Tulare and San Bernardino, and all of Inyo County – in her senate district,
She said all of them are failing to meet those mandates. Thus they fell into the lowest funding formulas for prison realignment.
Despite numerous appeals to have the formula overhauled, things remain in limbo, Fuller said.
"I finally threw myself on the floor of the Governor's finance committee and said 'Let's set the penalty right now.' That penalty should be giving the counties that are failing more money," Fuller said.
Another criticism the state senator consistently pointed out is the state's failure properly fund front-line law enforcement agencies like the sheriff or police departments.
Despite several attempts to correct the problem, whether by co-authoring bills or sponsoring legislation to amend the law, all efforts died in the senate committee, Fuller said.
Fuller said some lawmakers have a fallback position: Focus more on the mental health and rehabilitation programs associated with criminal behavior, along with "giving criminals jobs."
"There is a proposal right now to replace eliminated enterprise zones (business opportunity zones). There will be five places in the state where it's OK to write off your equipment purchases if you pay more than minimum wage and hire recently-released prisoners," Fuller said. "That's their fix."