Over 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]