Monday marked the first birthday of Realignment, and by most accounts the best grade the program can receive thus far is an “Incomplete.”
From the state’s perspective, the program has been a monumental success as the prison population has dropped by nearly 40 percent. The 27,000 inmates shifted from state responsibility to the local level have helped the state comply with a federal mandate for reducing prison population, and prevented the state from having to release inmates.
For counties, however, results and challenges have varied on a case-by-case basis. Not every county received the number of inmates expected and not every county spent its share of the $6 billion the same way. In some parts of the state, local jails have had to release some of their lower-risk inmates to make room for the shift. In rare cases, individuals who were released either under the terms of a Realignment shift or released with supervision that changed as a result of Realignment went on to commit additional crimes.
(Editor’s Note: Please keep in mind that the $6 billion given to Counties by the State was for the entire range of Realignment programs. Roughly 65 percent of the funding is for Health and Human Services. About $1 billion goes to support AB 109 Prisoner Realignment.)
However, the anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to prove an overall trend, and the varying approaches to Realignment were part of the design.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Realignment was intended to provide maximum local, autonomy. With few strings attached to the money, conservative counties were able to support a “lock-em up” approach. In Stanislaus County, for instance, roughly half of all funding went to staff the Sheriff Department or increase jail capacity. Forty percent went to probation.
Comparing that to San Francisco, however, shows the degree of control local authorities have. In San Francisco 81 percent of Realignment dollars went to probation programs. 19 percent went to prison healthcare, and less than one percent went to the Sheriff’s Department.
Varying local approaches can be viewed either as a piecemeal justice system or as 58 laboratories for innovation. Various approaches to reducing recidivism can be not only created, but tested as well.
Realignment has not been perfect. According to Barry Krisberg in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, the state is not monitoring outcomes of realignment. The problem is that not knowing outcomes prevents adjustments and improvements to procedures.