Murray sentence puts spotlight on state prison system

November 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Why will Dr. Conrad Murray do his time in county jail instead of a state prison? It's because of the state's effort to save money on the cost of housing inmates.

Under realignment, many offenses in California do not qualify for state prison. California can no longer afford it and it doesn't have the room.

Murray's case is highlighting how California's new sentencing laws for non-violent, non-serious offenses are working. Under the old terms, Murray would have gone to state prison for the death of pop star Michael Jackson. But under Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats' realignment plan that began Oct. 1, many of them now, including Murray, go to county jail instead.

"The Legislature of this state signed a Realignment Act that declares certain offenses, while felonies, not to be served in state prison and involuntary manslaughter is one of those," said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor during Murray's sentencing.

And since local jails have suddenly gotten an influx of inmates, many, like Murray, may not serve their full sentence due to overcrowding.

"There is a dilemma here with how do you deal with Dr. Murray?" said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. "My intent, because of the spirit of the law, is to keep him in as long as possible."

Crime victims groups have been sounding the alarm for months that realignment can be dangerous. Involuntary manslaughter is just one of the offenses allowing criminals to bypass state prison. Among others: felony child abuse, DUI manslaughter, gun sale to gang members and a second offense of domestic violence.

"What kind of message are we sending out to the violent offenders? Go ahead. Do whatever you want!" said Harriet Salarno with Crime Victims United.

Brown and other supporters of realignment have touted the prisoner shift plan as the only answer to the state's prison overcrowding problem that will satisfy the U.S. Supreme Court's order to reduce the inmate population by 30,000.

"This is a plan of safety, of efficiency, and local control," said Brown on Sept. 21. "So I think it'll be better. Is it perfect? No."

The state's corrections department points out that had Murray been sentenced to state prison he also would have served two years there. A sheriff has discretion to release an inmate early; a prison warden does not.


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