Strained capacities have led to an increase in fighting and deaths within the prisons. Prisoners were also denied sufficient mental health and medical care. As a result, the Supreme Court determined conditions within the state prisons violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
What is Sentencing Realignment?
In response to the mandate, the California legislature developed a sentencing realignment plan. The new plan will transfer all persons convicted of non-violent felonies and other non-serious crimes from prisons to local county jails.
For offenders not already in the system, judges will have a new option when issuing their sentence. An Associated Press article reported that judges will now be able to offer offenders “split” or “hybrid” sentences. Under this new sentencing platform, offenders will serve only a portion of their sentence in county jails. The rest of the time will be spent under “mandatory supervision” by probation officers.
Realignment will also bring about a change in supervision post-release for parolees. Instead of being placed on supervised by the state parole board, parolees will be monitored for three years after release by county probation agents.
Not all non-violent offenders will be eligible to serve their time in local county jails. Deputy Attorney General Darren Indermill told the Associated Press that offenders who have been convicted of a violent crime in the past will still be sent to state prison.
How Will Realignment Affect Los Angeles and Riverside Counties?
There are advantages and disadvantages to the new program. Some legal scholars see realignment as a step in the right direction that will help reduce offender recidivism rates. Jonathan Simon, a law professor at the University of California Berkeley, believe realignment will allow offenders to take advantage of important education and rehabilitation programs that the state prisons have been unable to provide. In addition, the local placement will make it easier for offenders to maintain family relationships and ties to the community at large that may help them be more successful when they get out.
The major disadvantage of the realignment plan will be the cost to the counties themselves. Although the state has allocated $6.4 billion to fund the realignment, with Riverside
County receiving $21.4 million and Los Angeles County receiving $124 million, the money is not expected to come close to meeting the actual cost of housing the offenders. With over a third of the state’s prisoners coming from Los Angeles and Riverside County, the counties will undoubtedly have to develop a plan for addressing this additional strain on county resources.
Sources: www.latimes.com, “LA’s Prison Realignment Opportunity,” 12 October 2011, Jonathan Shapiro and www.google.com, “AP Exclusive: New Calif Law Broadly Defines Crimes,” 4 October 2011, Don Thompson