New California Prison Plan Draws Criticism

September 29, 2011  |  

By Charlotte Young

In just a few days, nonviolent felons in California will no longer be sentenced to time in state prisons. Instead, they’ll be conveyed to local facilities as part of a move that’s the largest shift ever implemented in the state.

The plan is called “realignment.” NPR reports that the idea is to reassign certain state functions to California’s counties. It includes functions from criminal justice to child welfare, mental health and job programs.

The criminal justice portion will be a switch from the state’s “tough-on-crime approach,” to what is called a “smart-on crime strategy.”

Just a few months ago the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce the number of prisoners in its state prisons by 30,000. Gov. Jerry Brown told local California law enforcement officials that realignment will assist in helping the state to accomplish the Supreme Court’s order without public safety endangerment.

Offenders that already reside in state prisons will remain there. But new offenders with lesser, nonviolent and non-sexual offenses, will be directly placed into county jails. This will allow them to stay in close proximity to rehab and diversion programs that are located near their prospective homes.

Skeptics of the new plan have their share of legitimate concerns. The Prison Law Office’s Sara Norman believes that in concept the idea is a good thing, but questions whether the plan can be carried out correctly.

“If that programming isn’t there, if substance-abuse treatment, job retraining, things like that, are not available to them, it could be a big mess,” she told NPR.

In addition, due to overcrowding, over 20 Californian county jails have court-ordered capacity limits. The largest problem however, is funding. Although Brown has promised to work hard in order to guarantee enough money for 58 counties, his promise is dependent on ballot initiative and California’s voters.

“The program is funded for exactly nine months,” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, one of the biggest skeptics of realignment, said to NPR. “What happens after nine months, we don’t know.”

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