California Realignment gets Mixed Reviews

Sept.9, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.28.52 PMOver the summer, I followed the flow of prison reform news and found that one of the biggest stories of the year, continued to command the attention of the criminal justice field: California’s bold experiment with realignment. For those who haven’t been following the issue, realignment is simple in concept; those who do not commit violent, serious , or sex crimes do not go to prison, no matter how egregious the offense is supposed to be. It’s reduced the number of prisoners in California from approx.145,000 to under 120,000.

But the controversy over the reform has heated up over the summer. Law enforcement continues to demand more prison beds (translation: more prisons)  for non-serious offenders, the Supreme Court ordered Governor Brown to release 10,000  more prisoners (the reason for realignment in the first place was the Court’s finding that California’s prison overcrowding amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment”, recent research released describes realignment as working and not working. Rather than explore these issues now; let me suggest you follow them yourself, by checking my “Reentry Court Solutions” Facebook Page where relevant articles on the “Courts and Reentry”, include articles on “California Realignment”.

I will try to start off this fifith year on a positive note. Last year I visited and interviewed three counties that took very different approaches to their county’s “Realignment” responsibilities. They all appeared to show substantial potential for success with offenders sentenced to prison, who were to serve little time in local custodial institutions. With one last look backward, here are three county realignment models (as they were being structured in October of 2012), ranging from a highly involved court to one that hardly engaged “Realignment” at all.

[Note: I will be returning to the three counties (described below) this year and hope to provide  an update on their progress]

Cal Pilot Reentry Courts Point the Way

June 13th

With all the interest in California in the return of prisoners to county jurisdiction, it’s important to remember that there is already a major pilot project involving six counties providing supervision treatment and rehabilitation services to high risk offenders with substance abuse and/or mental health problems.

The six California pilot Reentry Courts have been around almost a full year and are beginning to provide evaluation data. While still very early in their development, they report very encouraging results. California reports an overall recidivism rate of 70%. Santa Clara county has been reported to have a recidivism rate of just 20%  (Santa Clara County Press Release), while San Joaquin County reports a recidivism rate of 29% (Stockton Record). Data from other counties are not available yet, but expected to be positive.

As California prepares its “prisoner realignment” back to the counties, we shouldn’t forget or neglect the promising results that the pilot reentry courts are showing and the efficacy of the reentry court model.