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A Year On, Prison Realignment Not Working

Law AB 109 — aimed at reducing California's prison population and lowering recidivism rates — has been unsuccessful, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

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By Bay City News:

With Monday marking one year since the state's prison realignment legislation went into effect, the American Civil Liberties Union of California today released an assessment of the realignment process thus far and how voters perceive the state's criminal justice system.

State prison realignment, or AB 109, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April 2011 and went into effect Oct. 1, 2011. The law moved low-level offenders from state prisons to county facilities in an effort to quell prison overcrowding.

The ACLU determined through their assessment and polling the state has not adopted enough reforms to make realignment successful, which would include reducing the prison population and lowering recidivism rates.

The state's recidivism rate is at about 70 percent.

According to the ACLU, the state prison population has decreased by about 25,000 inmates in the past year. However, more than 7,000 jail beds have cropped up in county facilities.

Meanwhile, jail expansion is in the pipeline for many counties, including in San Mateo County, amounting to an additional 10,000 beds statewide, ACLU officials said.

Facing pushback from law enforcement interest groups, according to the ACLU assessment, many counties are continuing to funnel money toward jail construction and focusing on "incarceration-only" models to fight crime.

The ACLU claims there is a perception that other methods make counties seem "soft on crime," according to California ACLU criminal justice and drug policy director Allen Hopper.

Backed by a recent poll, the ACLU found California voters across party lines, genders, ages, geographic regions and ethnic groups tend to support further prison reform options.

According to polling data released earlier this year by Tulchin Research, 75 percent of state voters favor investing public money in more prevention and alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders.

A large component of prison overcrowding is keeping those awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses behind bars.

As an alternative, the poll showed 70 percent of state voters support allowing courts to require supervised monitoring of low-level, non-violent defendants while they await trial.

Ben Tulchin from the research group said at an ACLU news conference this afternoon the highest levels of prison reform support come from the Bay Area, but in more conservative areas such as San Diego, parts of Los Angeles and Northern California regions, a majority of voters polled indicated support to reduce prison-only options for low-level offenders.

There are several counties that have taken realignment as an opportunity to reform local criminal justice systems, including Monterey County which has created a pretrial services program.

In Contra Costa County, split sentencing is now an option for low-level offenders under realignment and is used at an 82 percent rate compared to the state's 24 percent rate, according to data culled by the Chief Probation Officers of California.

Split sentencing allows part of a prison term to be spent out of prison.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has stepped out as a proponent of alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenders and defendants charged with low-level crimes while they await trial.

"We cannot incarcerate our way out of a problem," he said at the ACLU news conference this afternoon.

With money from the state for realignment, which was nearly $5.8 million for 2011-12 and bumped up to close to $17.3 million for this fiscal year, Gascon was able to hire an alternative sentencing planner, Luis Aroche, who has taken on one-third of San Francisco's 1,100 realignment cases that have come through in the past year.

Following Aroche's review, many of the cases result in non-prison alternatives such as community service, outpatient treatment, residential treatment or anger management courses.

San Francisco County has one of the lowest prison populations in the state, according to the city's Adult Probation Department.

Statewide, $375 million was allocated to realignment for the first year it was implemented, with an additional $842 million coming in for the second year of the transition.

Concord Mike October 02, 2012 at 03:45 AM
So Jerry Brown has released pver 20,000 criminals who have not served their sentences. The recidivism rate is 70%, and the average criminal commits 6 crimes (robberies, burglaries, theft, etc.) before being caught and sentenced. Get out the calculator: that figures out to 84,000 new innocent VICTIMS thanks to governor Brown and his cohorts in the far left wing California legislature. After 40 years of full Democrat control of both the State Senate and State Assembly, have you had enough yet?
Ben October 03, 2012 at 11:16 PM
It's all the "left's" fault. Way to stereotype. Can I say everyone on the right is a wingnut? Oh that might hurt your feelings? Let's just let the prisons expand until the entire state population is incarcerated for non violent crimes (right next to the violent offenders) they were forced to commit for survival or for protection of they're families due to lack of work and sensable law enforcment because counties with money are more important that the broke counties and deserve preferential treatment, engage thunderdome mode. You're right I'm the crazy one. There is no one in full control of the mess we've made of our popularity contes.. oh I mean politics.
Mike December 30, 2012 at 02:11 AM
If we're going to have a real discussion, let's clear up some of the misused terminology. The word "prison" is misused throughout the above article. So to clarify: PRISON - The STATE runs prisons; they are for SENTENCED inmates. NO ONE awaits their trial in a prison. JAILS: COUNTIES (and some CITIES, to hold arrestees prior to arraignment) run jails. Arrestees who don't make bail await their hearings/trials there, and offenders SENTENCED to 1 year or less, per offense (misdemeanors), are housed there. If sentenced to more than a year, (felony) it is served in state prison. The idea of realignment is to have the jails keep more of the non-violent offenders that would be sentenced to prison. For example; many parole violators have non-violent offenses as their violating charge. Under the regular system, when they have been found to be in violation of their parole, they would go to state prison and do up to a year; the maximum per VIOLATION allowed, regardless of the offense (not to be confused with the filing of a new criminal case for the violating act, that's a separate action Often DAs won't file a new charge, opting instead to allow the parole system to handle the offense because it's easier for the parole system to incarcerate, due to the lower standard of proof in a parole hearing than in a trial). Under realignment, those inmates would do their time in the county jail, or some alternative to incarceration. Hopefully that helps the discussion a bit

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