Houman Fakhimi

California Prison Realignment is State's Newest Money-Saving Venture

Authorities are finally listening -- after years of  Orange County Criminal Defense Attorneys and others trying to tell California officials that the prisons are overcrowded and their hard-line stance that everyone should be locked up, even for minor crimes, is ruining lives and costing billions.

But it's not because of some kind of proactive planning move. They're desperate. The state's budget is in disarray and prisons are overcrowded to epic proportions. Inmates and staff are sick as a result and it's unconstitutional.

But as of Oct, 1, 2011, AB 109 will go into effect, realigning the way California treats convicted criminals, according to the California State Association of Counties.

Under the new plan, those convicted of non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenses will begin serving their sentences in local jails rather than in state-run prisons. There are 60 such charges that are excluded from the new rule. Some of these charges include drug crimes, minor assaults and theft in Santa Ana.

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Plata, the state had to immediately revamp is unconstitutionally overcrowded prison system. Under the Plata decision, the government "realigned" the burden of housing convicts from the state to counties.

But the American Civil Liberties Union has a different plan for "realignment" that would better serve Californians and the decimated budget that the government is attempting to overhaul. This is a list of the twelve key elements of realignment planning as sent to all California counties by the ACLU:

  • Set up a process from the beginning that is transparent.
  • Assess the plan of the currently supervised population and the new realignment population.
  • Determine whether programs have a valid basis for success, set targets and evaluate.
  • Create a comprehensive approach that includes underlying causes of criminal behavior and recidivism.
  • Create a pre-booking and pre-charging diversion for the low-risk population.
  • Reduce immigration-based booking and detention costs.
  • Expand alternatives to imprisonment using home detention and work furlough programs.
  • Use community correction alternatives over jail for punishment.
  • Ensure that jail conditions and other sanctions are constitutional and subjected to legal review.
  • Use evidence-based post-release supervision programs.
  • Develop financing model that prioritizes funding programs for rehabilitation, treatment and reentry instead of just adding jail beds.
  • Don't just exchange prisoners.

It's unfortunate that it's taken years of wasted money for California's leaders to figure out that they can't just keep sending people to prison and paying for it without investing something in the defendants. Recidivism is one of the biggest problems in America's criminal justice system -- the same people going through the system year after year.

If the prison system would work with inmates, teach them life and work skills and give them the ability to find jobs and maintain finances when they get out, the system overall will be in much better shape. But officials would rather just keep shipping people back to prison.

This may finally be the start of California getting smart about its prison system instead of continuing to operate without new or innovative ideas.