Cal AB109 forces Counties to Care for their Own

Mar. 5, 2012

The two articles posted on my Facebook Page ( California Prisons Address Overcrowding, Remove Last Of Nearly 20,000 Extra BedsCalifornia prisons clearing out – sacbee.comfound to immediate right), speak volumes about the success of California’s prison reduction plan. Known statewide as AB 109, the realigment strategy returns what are called “triple nons” (non-violent, non-serious, non-sex-offenders) to local jurisdictions to deal with. It also requires local courts to sentence the same basic low risk offender class to local custody or alternatives to incarceration. The result has been the elimination of temporary beds and a reduction of almost 20,000 state prisoners since October 1st when the new law took effect.

Vilified by many California criminal justice professionals, it is clear that Governor Brown’s strategy is working and for all the right reasons. Critics argue that we are returning prisoners to counties that are unable to keep them incarcerated them and therefore risk releasing them into the community. And that is the point. If local communities and their judiciary wish to incarcerate an offender for a protracted period of time, it should be their burden, finacially and otherwise, not the state’s.

Consider what has been the existing system in California and elsewhere. Counties with limited jail facilities and financial resources have dumped tens of thousands of sentenced felon into the state  prison system. Between 1970 and 2006, the California Prison system increased more than 700%, largely because counties could send unwanted anti-social offenders out of county for long prison terms, the longer the better. Looking at a Callifornia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation documents, largely rural and financially strapped counties send the highest percentage of offenders to prison, and of course that is the problem.

What the Governor’s plan has done, is force local communities to accept responsibility  for their own less serious felons (once again, those who are in triple non status), forcing them to sentence offenders to more appropriate terms of incarceration and releasing those into the community who pose the least danger to the community. What is missing from this successful equation, is a court-based rehabilitation sysytem, that could seamlessly reintroduce offenders into the community through supervision, monitoring, and rehabilitation services that would give the newly released offender the opportunity to successfully reintegrate into the community.