California’s realignment plan alone will not be enough to fix its overcrowded prisons and reduce its high recidivism rate, according to California Prison Realignment One-Year Anniversary: An American Civil Liberties Union Assessment.
Realignment diverts some newly convicted felons to county jails, instead of state prisons. The plan is also designed to bring down recidivism by changing the state parole system and local probation programs. The state has the second-highest recidivism rate in the country, at 65.1 percent.
The state prison population has dropped by nearly 25,000 as a result of realignment, according to the report.
Part of the intention of realignment was to encourage counties to use and expand evidencebased alternatives to incarceration.
However, many counties are expanding their jails. Since realignment began, county jail capacity has increased by more than 7,000 beds, and one billion dollars in state lease-revenue bonds are “in the pipeline” for the construction of an additional 10,000 county jail beds, according to the report.
“Building and operating more prisons to address community safety concerns is not sustainable, and will not result in improving public safety,” the report says.
The report warns that realignment has the potential to become just a shell game of shifting inmates from doing time in state facilities to county jails.
“Realignment has the potential to become just a shell game..”
The state should institute modest sentencing reforms that would decrease the numbers of people sentenced to prison and jail — reforms which has saved money in other states, including Michigan, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Virginia, the report recommends.
It also recommends that state officials should “discourage counties from repeating the same failed policies that led to California’s prison overcrowding and recidivism crises.”
The report examined two senate bills that would have saved money for the state and counties without jeopardizing public safety. Neither bill was enacted in spite of strong public support.
Senate Bill 210 would have required judges to consider whether pretrial detainees with minimal risk could be released for community monitoring if they could not afford bail.
Senate Bill 1506 would have added California to the list of 13 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government that treat possession of drugs for personal use as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
The report made the following recommendations:
- Reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of drugs
- Reduce the penalty for lowlevel, non-violent property offenses
- Limit the amount of time someone can spend incarcerated in cRelease detainees from county jails who are awaiting trial who pose no risk to public safetyounty jails
- Institute standardized data collection and reporting methods to record how counties are budgeting realignment funds