One Year Later, It’s Hard to Tell if CA’s Prison Realignment Works


One year after California Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program started, the state has a smaller prison population. The San Francisco Chronicle says there is a broad difference of opinion about whether the plan, which handed California’s 58 counties responsibility for the incarceration and oversight of thousands of criminals, has made communities safer or reduced the number of criminals who re-offend, and there is no statewide data. California started realignment on Oct. 1, 2011, largely to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order demanding that the state reduce the population of inmates in its overcrowded prisons. Today, the state has about 133,000 prison inmates, 27,000 fewer than it did a year ago.

“It’s on schedule, and it’s in practice in all 58 counties, which are quite diverse,” Brown told the Chronicle. “I think all in all, we made a solid transition, and thank God for the fact we had the realignment plan – or we would have been forced by judges to let felons out of prison or to build new cells, which we can ill afford.” The diversity of counties makes it nearly impossible to draw conclusions about the plan’s statewide impacts. Under realignment, some county jails are filled and releasing inmates early due to overcrowding, while others handled the influx without issue. Critics of Brown’s plan point to individual crimes and spikes in crime rates in some places as evidence that the policy change is making the public unsafe. Supporters say it is too soon to tell whether isolated incidents indicate a larger trend. They argue that recidivism, not crime rates, will ultimately show the program’s success.

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