Nearly 15 months after starting the “boldest move in criminal justice in decades,” California Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades. Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation. “The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said last year. The numbers tell a different story, the Los Angeles Times reports. California is spending nearly $2 billion a year more on incarceration than when Brown started his “realignment” strategy in 2011.
The prisons are still overcrowded, and the state has been forced to release inmates early to satisfy federal judges overseeing the system. Counties, given custody of more than 142,000 felons so far, complain that the state isn’t paying full freight for their supervision. Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more. Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. “It is not going to create miracles overnight,” he said this spring. The governor’s office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state. Putting prisoners back in local hands “is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives,” he said.