California's public leaders and communities have endured a rollercoaster of judicial system change and development over the past five years, with legislation including AB 109 and most recently proposition 47 making an impact on a wide variety of management methods. While some of these adjustments have been for the better, there is still much room for improvement upon these foundations, especially as these laws begin to interact with one another in new and unpredictable ways.
As the state's police forces, courts and prison facilities enter the new year, I urge decision-makers to reflect and determine a proactive strategy for operational improvement moving forward.
Taking Stock of Progress
At the center of California's criminal justice conversation is the "non non non" criminal - a category of offender charged with non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious crimes. It was these descriptors that decision-makers used to determine the exodus of inmates from state penitentiaries to county and local jails several years back, and now the terminology has returned in the context of proposition 47. Under this legislation, "non non non" criteria essentially dismisses individuals of felony status, with many offenses now labeled as misdemeanors or lower-level crimes.
With proposition 47 building on the legacy of AB 109, California leaders expected drastically reduced prison populations and diminished indictment rates, but have these effects actually taken hold in practice? According to a recent article from the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, this county has watched its inmate numbers drop by more than 500 in recent months, with new sentences dropping by 33 percent. There have also been fewer instances of repeat arrests, although not all necessary resentencing procedures have been completed as of yet.
"We are continuing to monitor the impacts on Prop 47 and how it affects patrol and custody operations," said Nicole Nishida, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, according to the news source. "We anticipate our population will continue to decrease as inmates are resentenced (under Prop 47)."
New Sets of Priorities
While California should be pleased that its legislation is working as anticipated, decision-makers need to ensure that 2015 is dedicated to seeing that the implications of these programs don't impact municipalities in a negative way. With more "non non non" individuals on the streets, leaders have new responsibilities to shoulder. This means shoring up probation resources, bolstering drug rehabilitation efforts and providing local organizations with the offender tracking software
solutions necessary to fully protect communities throughout the state.