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Counties begin the daunting task of realignment

As the October 1st deadline edges closer, California's counties have started formulating their plans for how they will manage the new population of at the local level. 

Assembly Bill 109 defines the realignment, which was prompted by the May 2011 Supreme Court decision to reduce prison overcrowding in California.  For information on the practical application of AB 109, read Emily Luhrs' blog, Myths vs. Facts -- Clearing up the realignment debate.  The most significant change the bill outlines is the shift in responsibility for certain offenders from the state to counties, thereby leaving much of the logistical planning up to the individual counties, which are in a much better position to assess what resources they have at the local level.

Here is a sampling of county responses to realignment:

~ Butte County has been allocated 2.7 million dollars by the state for realignment.  A recent article in CBS 12 Action News reviewed Butte County's plans:

"Ramsey sat with Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith, Butte County Administrative Officer Paul Hahn, and others representing the courts, probation office, and social services... Trying to come up with a plan based on the limited 2.7 million dollars the county will receive from the state to accommodate these new prisoners. 'Which is not a lot of money to make this happen. We have to look at alternative custody measures to do things to fit in that particular budget,' says Sheriff Smith.

And officials say building more room for all 250 is definitely not an option. So what will they do? Ramsey says, 'Pre-trial release programs, programs to bring alcohol and drug and job training into the jail slash prison.'"

~ Stanislaus County has been allocated 6 million dollars by the state for realignment.  A recent article in the Modesto Bee reveals their plans:

""It all will change," Jerry Powers, the county's probation chief, told county supervisors. He cited "an entire systemic change" for sheriff's deputies, police, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, judges -- everyone with a badge or a stake in public safety.


Christianson said he will beef up work crews landscaping county parks, hauling away illegally dumped trash and removing graffiti. Other inmates would learn anger management, parenting and language skills in an expanded day reporting center.


"These programs will be more effective than at the state level," Powers said. "We have the infrastructure, the commitment and the personnel to make this thing work much better than it does at the state.""


~ Riverside County has been allocated 23 million dollars by the state for realignment.  An interview and article on KPCC radio portrays an optimistic plan:

"Riverside County leaders welcome the change. "We have an opportunity to do a better job," says County Supervisor John Benoit.


"I truly believe that," says Riverside County probation officer Alan Crogan. Crogan says his department will work closely with mental health and Sheriff's Department officials to tighten parole oversight and create programs to help convicts reintegrate into society.


"We have ongoing meetings now with all parties," says Crogan, "and we intend to provide a three-component plan: supervision, treatment and custody.""

Each county has been allocated state funds to serve inmates locally, based on the amount of current inmates sentenced to state prison by that county.  The above examples highlight the incongruent funding being provided by the state for criminal justice realignment and the varying approaches to carrying it out.  California's counties historically practice very different sentencing policies as evidenced by CJCJ's California Sentencing Institute's interactive map tracking the incarceration data of the state's 58 counties.  Some counties, like San Francisco have embraced local non-incarceration alternatives and send very few offenders to state prison; therefore, the state allocated only 5.7 million dollars to the county for realignment, while other counties that have previously relied on the state, have very little infrastructure to serve offenders locally.  In Senior Research Fellow Mike Males' March 2011 study, Can California's County Jails Absorb Low-Level State Prisoners?, he points out:

"while 24 counties with 13.5% of the State's prison population do have more than sufficient local jail space to become locally self-reliant by housing all of the low-level offenders they now send to state prison, most California counties do not."

The rest of California's counties must start developing their realignment plans now in order to be prepared come October 1st.  In developing those plans they should look to each other and out-of-state for best practices and collaborative models that will create a cohesive implementation of criminal justice policies not only in their counties, but statewide.

For an in-depth review of San Francisco's approach to criminal justice realignment, read Emily Luhrs' blog, San Francisco leading the way in Criminal Justice Realignment.

Keywords: Butte County, local policy, Riverside County, Selena Teji, Stanislaus County

Posted in Blog, Realignment

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