The policy of arrest and systematic incarceration of low-level offenders, wastes county jail resources needed for more serious offenders, and it hinders rehabilitation, according to a new report.
Numerous counties lock up every offender, causing a shortage of county jail bed space. However, “Not all adult offenders require secure confinement,” the October 2012, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report finds.
Unnecessary incarceration “can be the cause of a lack of viable program alternatives, or simply inefficient practices,” leading to overcrowded and deteriorating conditions resulting in legal action against jailers, the report states.
The situation at the state level became more urgent as two lawsuits, Colman v Brown (filed in 1990) and Brown v Plata (filed in 2001), resulted in California prisons being declared unconstitutional for their deleterious impact on prisoner health.
The report recommends jails and the probation system to reduce the rate of incarceration.
The Jail Alternatives Initiative has already implemented a “replicable systems level intervention approach,” which is designed to use local resources to help offenders stay out of jail.
“Not all adult offenders require secure confinement”
“Local and state corrections must provide the highest possible level of public safety with maximum benefit from available public funds,” said Scott MacDonald, chief probation officer for Santa Cruz County. “We must move past ‘tough on crime’ stances that lack depth and instead become ‘smart on crime.’”
JAI’s system diagnosis examines the “current characteristics of the individuals in jail beds,” such as “age, gender, racial identity, residence, immigration status, and prior arrest history” in order to develop a meticulous picture of the present jail population.
Some of the options outlined for offenders to reduce jail population include pretrial services, own-recognizance release, supervised release, intensive supervision, electronic monitoring, citation release programs, reducing bail amount, expediting plea agreements, deferred prosecution programs, day reporting centers and weekend crew operation.
The report finds it is imperative that county-based justice administrators control the future of their justice systems while not repeating the past mistakes at the state-level that created an ineffective structure relying on punitive practices rather than investing in self-reliant, local practices.