By Allen Hopper. Originally published in the Sacramento Bee.
to counties – has begun. But far more is at stake than the transfer of
inmates. If properly implemented, realignment will reverse decades of
over-reliance upon incarceration, improve public safety and save
taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
At the core
of the realignment legislation is an acknowledgment of the indisputable
failure of California's criminal justice policy on a massive scale. As
the legislative findings that accompany the law explain, "despite the
dramatic increase in corrections spending over the past two decades,
reincarceration rates … remain unchanged or have worsened … Criminal
justice policies that rely on building and operating more prisons to
address community safety concerns are not sustainable, and will not
result in improved public safety."
Our state's overall recidivism
rate has risen to an appalling 67.5 percent, among the highest in the
nation. To stem over-incarceration, counties must confront the
recidivism problem. We must hold individuals accountable for their
behavior while addressing the underlying reasons for criminal behavior –
whether drug addiction, mental health problems, lack of stable housing, education or job prospects and others.
Each county must provide the state with an Assembly Bill 109
implementation plan divvying up their share of the nearly $400 million
in state realignment funding. Since the new realignment law goes into
effect Oct. 1, counties across the state are scrambling to get these
plans drafted and approved by boards of supervisors in the next few
Some draft plans are in. San Joaquin County's plan calls for expanded use of home detention
with electronic monitoring for low-level offenders who can then
continue to go to work or to school. The plan also expands the probation
department's day reporting center to create a "one-stop shop" of
providers offering mental health, employment, substance abuse,
education and other services. The chief probation officer has described
her primary goal as "changing the way we do business in the criminal
Santa Cruz County has decided there is no need to increase jail space; instead the county will expand electronic monitoring programs. In Santa Clara County,
the plan calls for an almost even three-way split of the bulk of the
realignment funding between the Probation Department, the Sheriff's
Department and programs like drug treatment, mental health care and job
In other counties, however, it is more like business as usual. In Fresno County,
while the Probation Department's portion of the realignment plan calls
for a commendable expanded use of evidence-based programs to deal with
the re-entry population – those coming out of jail or prison – the plan
also allocates $5.6 million – nearly 64 percent of the county's total
realignment funding – to the sheriff, who intends to open an additional
860 jail beds. In Los Angeles County,
Sheriff Lee Baca and other officials warn daily of dire consequences
and demand more funding for massive expansion of jail capacity.
no further state funding is available, and counties that insist upon
long jail sentences for low-level offenses will be forced to pay for
incarceration with discretionary dollars that are desperately needed for
schools and basic services.
Not nearly enough county plans
acknowledge the importance of employing alternatives earlier in the
criminal justice process. AB 109 encourages correctional sanctions to be
applied instead of, rather than following, incarceration, in
appropriate cases. Rather than sending low-level offenders to jail for
two years and then placing them into a post-release program designed to
help them re-enter the community, county officials and community-based
organizations should work collaboratively to create and implement
alternative sanctions and programs. Appropriate offenders – and
individuals awaiting trial – can be placed on electronic monitoring and
into such programs rather than simply being warehoused in a jail cell.
County has not yet released a draft plan, but the chief probation
officer sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors setting out four "core
programs" that are being discussed. In an encouraging sign that the
county may take seriously AB 109's admonition to implement alternatives
to incarceration, the sheriff's home detention program may be expanded.
letter states that a facility at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center may
be re-opened, an expensive option that may not be necessary if the
county sincerely pursues non-incarceration alternatives for the
lowest-risk population. The letter also states that a final plan will
not be ready by Oct. 1, and that those sentenced under the new law
before the plan is finalized will simply be housed in the county jail.
Warehousing low-level offenders in jail instead of employing appropriate
alternative sanctions will only perpetuate the over-incarceration
problem that has gotten us into this mess in the first place.
the sake of our communities, our tax dollars and the future of our
state, it's time for our county leaders to lay the groundwork for a
paradigm shift whose time has come. Incarceration must be reserved for
people who have committed serious crimes.
Allen Hopper is is the Police Practices Director of the ACLU of Northern California,
where he develops and implements strategies to improve police
accountability and reduce over-incarceration and over-reliance upon the
criminal justice system as a mechanism for addressing social issues.