"Today when I think of reentry court, I am reminded that nearly every offender sentenced to time in custody will return to the community from whence they came. And thus, every sentencing court is in fact, a reentry court, creating a pathway for the offender’s reentry into society." -Jeff Tauber

The easy part of prison reform

Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 12.59.00 PMFeb.10, 2013

The following article is reprinted from a February posting, as it speaks to the dilemma that California criminal justice policy makers.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “Gov. Jerry Brown had his “Mission Accomplished” moment…… He believes “victory should be declared” in the state’s prison overcrowding crisis” He was also quoted as saying “California’s prison health care system is now a model for the nation,” and that any further reduction in state prisoners would endanger the public’s safety.

Clearly the Governor has much to be proud of. He had pushed through the legislature, AB109, a bill that reduced prison populations by about 50,000 prisoners in a year, and fought successfully for Proposition 30, making billions of dollars available to counties impacted by Brown’s transitioning of responsibility  for non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex-offenders to the counties. Still, what has been accomplished is the first part, the easy part of prison reform, More complicated and critical reforms have not begun to be addressed.

State prisons still house offenders who could do better in their own communities, even if it means spending additional time in county jail. AB109 was intended to encourage alternatives to incarceration, but relatively few counties are accepting that challenge, Instead most are expanding and/or building new jail facilities. Somehow, we must encourage counties to spend more of their Proposition 30 money on alternatives to prison rather than jail substitutes for prison. One obvious reform would be to encourage judges to sentence AB109 offenders to spit sentences  (offenders who must be housed in jail, even though the offense is defined as a prison offense), so that the court could supervise their jail conduct and rehabilitation in the community. More than 80% of AB109 offenders sentenced to jail receive a jail sentence that cannot be reduced or transferred to community supervision.

While Governor Brown’s prison reform limits those sent to prison to more serious offenders, it ignores the doubling of prison sentences for serious offenders over the past twenty years. Why assume that the legislature’s response to sensational crime with ever increasing penalties is rational or justified. Why assume that the labyrinth of sentencing law and enhancements make sense or are necessary or appropriate.

Then there are the obvious reforms that almost everyone supports, but for some reason are almost never implemented. Drug, alcohol and mental health treatment, education, and job training while the offender is in custody, is almost universally supported by the public. Half-Way Houses or similar Institutions, that allow the offender to transition to the outside, while continuing under custodial or other substantial supervision are also favored by most.  Finally, continued oversight of the offender while in the community, under the care and supervision of the court and supervisory agencies (through AB109 split sentencing or reentry courts) is a necessity for most successful prisoner rehabilitation.

It’s easy to see that the governor has done well in beginning the prison reform process in California. Stopping now, without continuing and expanding its scope, providing resources, assistance, and supervision to those coming out of custody, will surely set the incarcerated up for continued failure and and a return to custody.

 

Realignment Boosts Sentencing System Reform

 

 

 

The Best Of: This article, first published on September 24, 2012, describes how Realignment , a reform that requires counties to keep less-serious offenders in-county to serve prison sentences, is being modeled in California.

Realignment, as prison reform, is having an major impact in the development of countywide evidence-based “sentencing systems”. No where is that effect greater than California, where the state is heavily relying on realignment to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court  order to reduce severe prison over-crowding (see NYT: In Califronia, County Jails face bigger load)

California’a AB109 Realignment Strategy has two important aspects:

1) Those sentenced to prison on less serious offenses (typically called triple nons; non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenses), will be housed in county jails (when sentenced to prison) and supervised by county probation departments on LCS (Local Community Supervision). These individuals may not be sent to prison. Instead, they may be sentenced to a straight jail sentence (equivalent to the term they would have served in prison) or they may be sentenced to a split sentence term.  This is where the enormous potential of California’s realignment (AB109) comes into play. The court has the discretion to split the sentence between jail and LCS in ways it determines to be appropriate. The court maintains jurisdiction over the offender and may monitor the offenders progress over the course of the entire sentence; reducing a jail sentence and releasing the offender into the community to be supervised under LCS, or returning the offender to jail to complete part or all of the term upon substantial LCS violation. The degree of court discretion and involvement in the monitoring and supervision of the felon can be extraordinary, perhaps greater than that of any other state. Counties are required to develop collaborative strategies with probation, sheriff’s departments and other agencies and community based organizations, with the potential to maximize the impact of the court, while utilizing the resources and involvement of all collaborating organizations.

2) Starting in July, 2013 , those released from prison will be retained in the community, under Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS),  while under the jurisdiction of the County Superior Court, supervised by probation, to be returned to jail rather than prison when there are violations of parole. Unless they come under a very limited exception for dangerous and violent offenders, they will not be place on parole, revoked under the authority of the state parole board or returned to prison (a limited program currently exists statewide).

These two provisions provide a major opportunity for communities to create evidence-based sentencing systems, that utilize the courts, as part of a comprehensive and seamless sentencing system. Eveyone should be paying attention to what California Courts are doing with their new jurisdiction and sentencing discretion. (see:“A Model Court Based Sentencing System”)

Conflicting Views on California Realignment

April 23, 2012

Depending on who you talk to, you will get very different views on the success or failure of California Realignement. Known as AB109, the Reform Act has reduced the number of California prisoners by more than 20,000 since its inception in October of 2011. By that definition, it clearly has achieved its intended goal of bringing down California’s prison population to limits set last year by the U.S. Supreme Court . The beds have been removed from prison gymnasiums (see photo on left). The issue being hotly debated across the state is the cost of doing so.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there has been a reduction in the number of persons who have recidivated in Los angeles County since AB109 began.  “Before realignment, California had a 67 percent recidivism rate. That means almost seven out of every 10 people we let out came back to us (within a year).” Los angeles County now reports a 25 percent recidivism rate over the initial six month period – or about 50 percent when figured at an annual rate (as reported 3/28/2012).

On the other hand, the Sacramento-based, “Criminal Justice Legal Foundation” (CJLF) claims offenders who now qualify for local jail or treatment under AB109 are already being arrested for new felonies, including violent crimes. CJLF President Michael Rushford said these reports are just the beginning. “Just six months since the rollout of the new realignment law, it is already evident that California has become a more dangerous place for law-abiding people to live and work.(as reported, 4/21/12)

Clearly, there is no consensus as to how realignment is affecting public safety. And it is too early to reach any definitive conclusion. What we do know is that California is slowly reducing the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons and shifting their supervision to the counties (mostly probation). Some believe that except for the recession, Realignment would never have happened. But whatever the reason, it has reestablished community control and responsibility for the non-violent offender and opened a door to a plethora of community based alternatives to incarceration (as reported 12/20/11).

 

 

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