Adult realignment, the shift of lower-level felony offenders to local supervision under AB 109, continues to pose a challenge to many counties as they struggle with how to serve this expanded population of offenders at the local level. Recent reports indicate many of the large counties have responded through initiating a planning process to construct new jail bed space rather than shifting current practices.
A few counties have found this increased offender population manageable by undergoing system-wide changes. A new report
from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice analyzes the innovative choices made by Santa Cruz County that makes it a statewide model as a successful adaptation to the realignment challenge.
Currently, Santa Cruz County incarceration trends make the county stand out compared to the state average. In fact, the county's un-sentenced jail population is significantly below the state average. However, this was not always the situation for the local justice system. County justice administrators implemented strategic and data-driven strategies that impacted the overall system. For example, probation leadership invested in the expansion of pre-trial release programs for non-sentenced individuals. The report notes,
"In 2006, the Department's pretrial service program was expanded to include additional staff, which increased the release recommendations based on validated, objective risk criteria. Currently, the pretrial service unit recommends five types of release: pre-arraignment release, own-recognizance, supervised release, intensive supervised release, and post-sentence electronic monitoring."
These pre-trial alternatives were coordinated with the efforts of the Santa Cruz County sheriff's department and judicial system. The results have been impressive. These programs demonstrate an investment in local community-based options. Besides the positive impact on long-term public safety, the pre-trial programs saved the county millions of dollars and allowed for ample jail space for the realigned AB 109 population of "non-non-non" offenders. From the report,
"In 2009 dollars (the latest fiscal data), Santa Cruz spent approximately $3,146 for each of its 5,077 probation cases, less than half the average of $6,775 spent by California as a whole on 331,270 probation cases statewide."
The story of the Santa Cruz experience presents a replicable approach to the state's current reliance on incarceration. The approach taken by practitioners in Santa Cruz provides a road map to responding to the implementation of realignment.
"During a time of mass incarceration at both the state and local level, and now, in light of realignment, the story of Santa Cruz County provides an example of how strong local leadership combined with data-driven interventions can cultivate systemic change."
During a time when crime is on the decline, local justice systems need a framework for modifying their local justice policies and practices to reduce their reliance on incarceration. The data-driven approach demonstrated in this analysis suggests a viable way to cultivate systems change at the local level.
The concluding section of the report explores the implications for county jail systems across the state if other counties were to follow the Santa Cruz approach:
"If California's other counties jailed their adult arrestees at Santa Cruz's lower rate, approximately 43,000 inmates would be held in jails statewide instead of the current 74,000, freeing 31,000 additional jail beds to house returned state prisoners under AB 109's mandated realignment (42% less). Unfortunately, this is not the current situation in California; in fact, 34 counties lack sufficient jail capacity to incarcerate offenders affected by AB 109 (Males, 2011). As result of over-reliance on incarceration, some counties will be faced with significant challenges as they accept increased responsibility for offenders at the local level."
As realignment enters its second year, this model could serve to show counties effective ways to alleviate some of their jail space without spending taxpayer money on additional jail construction.