By MICHAEL RAMOS, San Bernardino County District Attorney
PUBLISHED: August 30, 2013
I support the recent decision by Gov. Brown to keep the Norco prison open. As we all continue to deal with aftermath of prison reform, this is a good move after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent direction to release more prisoners.
As chairman of the National District Attorneys Association’s Committee on Corrections and Prison Re-entry, I can say that this is an issue being felt across the country. In fact, just last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pushed the issue of sentencing and prison overcrowding.
Make no doubt that we are seeing an increase in property crimes and we are keeping a close eye on serious and violent crimes.
Just recently, I was called by the governor as his staff indicated that I am sending more than my share of criminals to state prison. One factor is our gang population. The FBI’s National Gang Threat Assessment for 2011 revealed that San Bernardino County has the third-highest gang population behind Cook County, Ill., and Los Angeles County.
I do believe in prevention and rehabilitation and we have an excellent partnership with our Sheriff’s and Probation departments. But there is a specific population preying on law-abiding citizens and we must hold them responsible. As it stands now, certain felons are essentially getting a “get out of jail free” card. This is not a board game but real life.
We need to face the fact that more space is needed to house the serious and violent felons. To this end, we need to build a local state prison in the Inland Empire that is staffed and structured to handle the complex issues of dealing with long-term incarceration.
As we have seen in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the cases Coleman and Plata, health care and especially mental health is a critical issue that currently our Sheriff’s Department is grappling with in this environment. Our local jails are also getting more violent. There has been a 50 percent increase in assaults on our deputies. Make no mistake, this is directly related to housing criminals that used to go to state prison. The “non-violent, non-serious felons,” as they have been coined in the state legislation, serve little, if any, jail time locally as our jails are full. There is no more room at the inn and these criminals know it.
It is for these reasons that I support Gov. Brown’s new plan. He has been working with all the stakeholders and has come up with a blueprint to keep from releasing more prisoners into our communities. Part of the plan is not only keeping Norco prison open but contracting with private firms for new bed space, as well as using trained correctional officers to work these new facilities.
I want to thank the governor for meeting with me on this issue and his ongoing communication as we come up with solutions for “prison reform” that protect the law-abiding public rather than the criminal.
I made a commitment to my community that I will hold all responsible for crimes being committed on our citizens. I will continue to send the most violent criminals to state prison — especially gang members — even if that means building new prisons, or keeping existing ones open.
As it stands now, certain felons are essentially getting a “get out of jail free” card.
We need to face the fact that more space is needed to house the serious and violent felons.
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