In “Justice by Geography,” CA Counties Handle State Prison Shift Differently


Under a court order to ease state prison overcrowding, California moved to divert thousands of lower-level offenders to local jails. The Wall Street Journal says the fallout from that shift is reverberating through several sections of the state. In Kern County north of Los Angeles, Sheriff Donny Youngblood’s jail was so near capacity this spring that he released hundreds of inmates—monitoring them with electronic devices or assigning them to do supervised labor such as working as janitors. The approach drew criticism when a man convicted of driving under the influence, who also had several prior convictions, was released after serving a few months of his six-year sentence and when local news reports documented an increase in burglaries.

California’s 58 counties have varied widely in how they manage the inmate shift, known as realignment. Residents in some areas, such as San Francisco, have embraced seeking alternatives to incarceration. As counties begin to experiment with new methods, local residents protest that people are being let out of jail too early. “I call it ‘justice by geography,’ depending on where you get arrested,” said criminal justice expert Barry Krisberg of the University of California, Berkeley. The population in the 33 state prisons has fallen by 16 percent to 120,946 from 144,138 in late September 2011.

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