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Demanding a New Approach to Prison Population Management

Published: July 28, 2014

It has been several years since prison realignment was first introduced to the state of California, and while public officials remain optimistic about the initiative, recent statistics show that the effort has not yielded very favorable results. County jails continue to operate far beyond their maximum capacity, oftentimes with frightening consequences, according to the Roseville and Granite Bay Press Tribune. In many cases counties are being forced to put non-violent offenders back on the streets in order to make room for individuals who pose more urgent threats. Something needs to change before the situation worsens.

More Crime, Fewer Resources

The latest findings on the impact of realignment shed light on the severity of the circumstances facing county jails and supervisor networks, the Roseville and Granite Bay Press Tribune revealed. Research published by the nonpolitical, nonpartisan group Public Policy Institute of California showed that although misdemeanor conviction rates have declined since the law was passed in 2011, felony convictions are on the rise and the number of repeat offender arrests has spiked 7.5 percent. Economist Magnus Lofstrom, chief researcher tracking realignment for the PPIC, offered a potential explanation.

"What's behind (the same offenders getting arrested numerous times) is not entirely clear," Lofstrom said, according to the news source. "That is something that should be looked into more … But it could have something to do with the fact that many county jails are having difficulty keeping offenders inside - so there's more 'street time.'"

Increases in rates of both serious convictions and 'street time' is not good news for the state of California, as it means that more resources will have to be funneled into the management of repeat offenders and will likely push county jails further into debt. PPIC researcher Steven Raphael explained that in light of realignment demands, it's only natural that these factors would coincide.

"We actually discussed what the multiple arrests means, in additional to people being monitored more closely," Raphael observed. "In some cases they may be getting arrested for not showing up (to court); and with the addition of flash incarceration, you would expect to see that number go up."

A Change Must Happen - Now

Chances are slim that crime will dip anytime soon in California, but all is not lost for the state's prison management outlook. If these organizations can focus on improving their offender tracking software and other operational systems, I'm confident that public leaders can finally see positive change result from realignment.

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