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California's adult corrections realignment: Just a change of address?

Several weeks ago, I represented CJCJ at the Second Annual Conference on Public Safety Realignment.  The conference was sponsored by the Joint Training Partnership of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), California State Sheriffs' Association (CSSA) and Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC). Over 600 law enforcement stakeholders were in attendance, representing Community Corrections Partnerships from the majority of the counties across California.   Staff from the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) were the primary facilitators of the event.

The content of the conference focused mostly on best practice strategies for managing local criminal justice systems in the wake of AB 109 realignment.  A handful of counties presented in a series of panels on how they are making data-driven decisions at every point of their local criminal justice systems, from risk assessments, to pretrial alternatives for lower-level offenders, to making effective choices about community supervision. Chief and deputy chief probation officers from Santa Cruz and Marin counties presented on their pretrial alternatives programs that are resulting in a decreased numbers of unnecessary incarcerations, an increase in the utilization of treatment and rehabilitative programs, and all with failure to appear and recidivism rates that are far below the state average.

District attorneys from Contra Costa and Stanislaus counties discussed how realignment is changing sentencing practices, where split sentences that result in less time in custody and more time on community supervision are becoming the norm.  They talked about how the changes brought about by realignment are challenging them to value treatment and rehabilitation of offenders rather than simply focusing on obtaining the longest sentence possible.  Multiple prosecutors and sheriffs also talked about how realignment is compelling them to collaborate across law enforcement sectors to a greater degree, especially in placing greater trust in their probation partners, as limited jail space places greater burden on community supervision by county probation departments.  The conference was designed to highlight the bright spots of changing practice in forward-thinking counties across the state.

Juxtaposed with this conference was the November 8th meeting of the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) in Sacramento.   Despite the promising trends discussed at the realignment conference, the BSCC continues to approve funding for new county jail construction with minimal prerequisites for counties to utilize data-driven practices for maximizing alternatives to incarceration.  Little is being done by this statewide body to create incentives for counties to actually change their practices, especially with few strings attached to the $2 billion that the state has earmarked for jail construction or jail upgrades through Assembly Bill 900 and Senate Bill 1022.  

What happens when the rhetoric is not matched by reality?

Dr. Joan Petersilia from Stanford's Criminal Justice Center closed out the realignment conference Friday morning with a sober warning during her keynote address:  By her team's estimations, based on the current trajectory of jail beds being constructed, by 2016 California will have more people incarcerated in county jails than were in state prisons in 2011, before realignment.  They estimate that the total number of incarcerated individuals in California will increase by approximately 55,000 by 2016, compared to the 2011 baseline.

While it is clear that realignment provides unprecedented resources for counties to break from the failed criminal justice practices of the state prison system, it is also clear that realignment could become an irrational exercise of simply "switching the addresses" of California's highly incarcerated populace.

Keywords: AB 109, adult corrections, Brian Heller de Leon, pretrial

Posted in Blog, Realignment

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