Prison Realignment To Replace Dysfunctional System
A prison realignment in California, designed to shift control from the state government to local authorities, is scheduled to replace the current system, which many describe as deeply flawed, Saturday, Oct. 1. Governor Brown's initiative is in response to the U.S Supreme Court's prison population reduction ruling. The realignment will keep felons in state prisons for the duration of their sentences, but lower-level offenders, like drug addicts and thieves, who have finished serving their terms by Saturday will be supervised by local officials, and those convicted after Saturday will be held in local jails.
According to the government report, "prison realignment" means that local officials will now be responsible for “supervising parolees, managing lower-level offenders, and providing mental health, substance abuse, and child protective services.”
Non-violent criminals will no longer be sentenced to state penitentiaries, which means that over 26,000 criminals are expected to be sent to county jails.
This year, the 58 counties in California will receive $400 million; next year, $850 million; and $1 billion thereafter. The state budget will go down as the local budget goes up. The funds are coming from part of the state tax, which is being converted to a local tax. Additionally, the state's vehicle license fee, which used to be sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles, is contributing $453 million directly to the counties. Ideally, by the end of the realignment process, California will save $1.5 billion dollars in incarceration fees.
Jean Ross, the executive director at the California Budget Project, recognizes that realignment will function as a means to reduce prison population, but does not consider the plan a timely resolution to the state budget crisis. “It really wasn’t designed to save money in the short term," she said. “In the long term, I think that there’s some hope to reduce the number of people in the state prison system, but the key thing is that in the short term, [saving money] wasn’t the primary motivation.”
While the U.S Supreme Court ordered a reduction of 30,000 offenders from the California prison system, this realignment plan will still allow criminals to serve their complete terms.
Contrary to public perception, criminals are not expected to be roaming the streets due to a lack of space. Gov. Brown said in the conference he is under the impression that “realignment is the most viable way to comply with the court’s order.” It ensures that the most dangerous offenders continue to serve time in state prisons. During the conference, he “pledged his maximum support to local officials: full funding, flexibility to use local solutions, and a future ballot measure guaranteeing the funding.”
“The only way,” Brown said, “is forward, forward in a collaborative work with the state officials, local officials, mental health, substance abuse people, adult protective service, all the different ingredients that go to maximizing public safety in the state of California.”
Although the crime rate in California has been going down since the 1990s, there is a 67.5 percent recidivism rate and, in the past, police officials have been forced to release inmates solely because there is not enough space in the prisons. The overpopulation issue is due to a pervasive "lock em' up" mentality, which caused a burst from 97,000 inmates in 1990 to almost 161,000 today.
Now, many fear that lack of space in penitentiaries and more lenient punishments for petty criminals will put more crime on the streets. With increased funding for policemen still in the works and, law enforcement officials foresee more property crimes and thefts. However, Los Gatos Police Chief, Scott Seaman, maintains a sense of hope and is “committed to the success of the plan, because realignment has the potential to attain recidivism outcomes and the reduction of prison population.”
Now, the next step is a ballot measure that will ensure continued funds for these local rehabilitation programs. While Governor Brown is fully behind realignment, those like Supervisor Mike McGowan of Yolo County know that Brown will not be in office forever and there needs to be a sense of security that local funds will not be “raided” by the legislature in the future.
“We can’t overturn the Supreme Court’s decision,” said the Governor, “but we can work together to ensure public safety. It’s a big challenge--it’s not trouble free. There will be bumps along the way, but from everything I can tell, this is a viable plan that as we work together will not only ensure public safety, but will fix a prison system that has been profoundly dysfunctional for decades.”
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