The first major revisions to California’s Prison Reform Act (also known as AB109), have been made as a part of Governor Brown’s Budget Revisions submitted May 14th to the legislature. Among several proposed criminal justice provisions, is a paragraph that could have a substantial impact on the future of prison reform in California (click on image on left for full Budget Revision).
From the brief section on Corrections and Rehabilitation:
“Long‐Term Offenders—The May Revision proposes additional tools to assist counties in managing long‐term offenders. The proposal authorizes CDCR to house long‐term offenders, provided the county agrees to accept an equivalent average daily population of short‐term offenders. The proposal relies on County Parole Boards to make the determination to send long‐term inmates to state prison after inmates have served three years of their sentence in a county jail. Lastly,the proposal establishes a presumption of a minimum level of split sentencing, but authorizes a judge to make an exception if the judge determines that a split sentence is not appropriate.”
California’s Prison Realignment Reform (also known as AB109), was largely about keeping less serious offenders in county jail and under county supervision. Counties and county judges are forced to be more realistic and rational when sentencing offenders to long term county jail terms. Prior to Realignment Reform, it was common for judges to sentence offenders to long prison terms, where the county kept neither jurisdiction, nor financial responsibility for the prisoner’s incarceration. California Realignment Reform is important because it forces county officials to calculate the costs as opposed to the benefits of long terms of local incarceration, steering sentences toward shorter terms for non-serious offenders and the use of alternatives to incarceration.
One possible benefit found in the announced proposal is the final rider to the provision, “the proposal establishes a presumption of a minimum level of split sentencing, but authorizes a judge to make an exception if the judge determines that a split sentence is not appropriate.” Judges have been reluctant to sentence non-serious offenders to split sentences. This provision will encourage judges to use at least minimum split sentencing, allowing for alternative sentencing, probation involvement, incentive-based supervision, and continued judicial supervision.
It is unclear what ultimate impact this provision (if enacted) will have, how it will be administered by Parole Boards, and whether it will have a significant impact on existing realignment reform. Clearly, if it becomes law, it will need to be closely monitored.