REALIGNMENT TO NOWHERE
by Mike Reynolds, July 11, 2014
Realignment as an idea or concept is not a bad plan. With a statewide recidivist problem at 70% every 18 months and our state prison system releasing as many as 100,000 convicted felons each year, the question is this helping or just speeding up this revolving door?
The problem as well as the solution is simply “capacity.” When this plan was put into place 31 of California’s 58 county jails were already overcrowded and under court order. So the state placed our counties in an even more dangerous position than they were before Realignment. The politically positive side of this idea is when an early released offender proceeded to commit a new and violent crime the local sheriff gets blamed not the state or the governor.
We were told that only non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offender would be sent to county jails. What we weren’t told was that definition only applied to their current conviction and not to their prior offense.
So Realignment would have been a good idea if there had been extra space in local jails and if the offenders being sent to our local jails were really low level criminals.
The state promised to send extra funding to our counties for housing the state’s inmates.
Only one problem, the county is now responsible for not only the cost of housing these Realigned inmates, but also their healthcare. That was not figured into the deal and changes what was a money maker for our counties into a financial money pit. Also noteworthy is the initiative has a time limit that expires soon and thus the Realignment funding will vanish.
So Realignment would be a good idea if our jails had the room, the offenders were really non-violent and it did not place a large financial burden on our counties.
There is another “side effect” from overcrowding that should be mentioned. Simply put, shorter terms for crime and early release. This places criminals back on our streets with a new sense of empowerment; when crimes no longer have penalties they no longer are crimes.
This dumbs down the entire criminal justice system and makes crime an easy career decision for entry level offenders.
Increasing crime rates become the obvious result; as crime moves in everything good moves out. Good jobs, good neighborhoods, and a good tax base. This is replaced with a higher cost of policing and sending ever more violent criminals back to state prison, thus increasing the inmate population. Isn’t that what Realignment was going to fix?
So Realignment would have been a good idea if our county jails had the room, that we were only housing low level felons, that the state would adequately fund the program and that our crime rates did not go up and increase prison populations.
The simple solution would be to build some new prison space. Our state has only funded and built one new prison in the last 20 years. The California legislature realized this when they passed AB900 to provide up to 20,000 new beds and $7 billion directed to housing and rehabilitation programs. Where is the money? What happened to derail AB900? Why has this basic need of California infrastructure been neglected? Public safety should be the number one priority but it’s definitely being treated like number two.