Uncertainty Clouds the Future of Prison Realignment
Published: November 17, 2014
California's prison realignment program hasn't exactly had the smoothest start in the history of state legislation. The premise of the initiative - to relocate the bulk of non-violent offenders from state penitentiaries to local jails - may have seemed promising several years back when prison populations overflowed across California, but not much has changed since these measures were instated. Despite a new crime reclassification proposition appearing on the upcoming state ballot, I believe that decision-makers are overlooking the underlying problem: a lack of centralized offender management methods.
Progress or Treading Water?
Decision-makers in California don't plan on giving up on realignment just yet - with three years already in the books, the effects of the legislation have long set in and changed the face of the state's prison system. However, additional measures have been suggested to alter the trajectory of the initiative in hopes of improving outcomes, including the latest details of Proposition 47. According to Record-Bee Lake County News, the effort is aimed at reclassifying "wobbler" offense categories - those sitting on the fence between crimes and misdemeanors - to reduce prison crowding and loosen budgets.
The legislation is seen as a supplement to AB 109, the official title of the realignment act that put non-violent, newly-convicted criminals in local and county jails rather than state prisons. Despite being slated for a vote on November 4, officials in county jail management positions aren't certain that the measure will actually impact the daily operations and budgets of their facilities.
"We're still in the mode of trying to increase staffing to deal with the changes made under AB 109, so to add something else to our load could stretch us pretty thin," Lake County Jail Chief Probation Officer Rob Howe told the news source. "The problem is we don't know how many people we'd be dealing with and we don't know how the court will deal with sentencing practices."
Software to Incite Change
Proposition 47 may indeed build upon the foundations of AB 109 in a positive way, but I'm not convinced that it will deliver the impact necessary to turn the realignment program around. Significant progress can be made, however, with offender tracking software that redefines the way inmates are taken into the system and probation sentences are carried out. There's no getting around the fact that prisons are overpopulated in California, but officials can change the way they manage their institutions to mitigate common challenges.