For California Prison Realignment Hype, Scary Tales Deserve Skepticism

By Mike Males and Barry Krisberg

Over the last 30 years, California has created an oversized, overcrowded prison system entailing billions of dollars in taxpayer expense, endless safety and health crises, a dismal record of rehabilitation, and increasingly proscriptive court orders to regulate almost all aspects of prison operations.

One major reason for this crisis is that a number of counties were over-relying on the state system by sending thousands of lower-level property and drug offenders to prison. California’s legislature and governor had no choice but to cut prisoner numbers. They mandated that counties, as of October 1, 2011, could no longer send offenders to state prison unless they were convicted of serious, violent, or sex crimes.

Called “realignment,” the state plan aimed to reduce prison populations by 40,000 over the next five years, saving taxpayers around $2 billion annually and recognizing that unnecessary incarceration does not achieve public safety goals. Realignment is the first step in making local jurisdictions more self-reliant – with the added hope that the counties will design better strategies to prevent reoffending than prisons have.

So far, realignment has been meeting its stated goals. In its first year, prison numbers fell by 27,000. While the numbers of violent, serious, and sex offenders committed to state prison remain the same, counties are assuming responsibility for their drug possession, petty theft, car boosting, and other low-level offenders that are best managed locally.

It is too early to assess the effects of realignment, if any, on crime rates. These data won’t be available for several months. Nevertheless, some opponents of realignment are already asserting that the new policy is overburdening counties and creating a crime epidemic.

Over the past several months there have been multiple news reports charging that the realignment is increasing crime across California. Additionally, there have been a few law enforcement assertions regarding crimes committed by locally-supervised probationers who, prior to realignment, would have been supervised by the state parole system.

Continue Reading @ California Progress Report



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