Calif. prison realignment plan: The shifting responsibilities

Many of the issues with this shift, at least for local authority, is a secure funding stream for this very expensive activity

By Bob Walsh

As most of the followers of Corrections1 are probably aware the formerly great state of California has recently enacted huge changes in the way what was formerly thought of as prison and parole operate. Governor Jerry Brown labeled this change "realignment." What this did was shift the responsibility of housing many convicted felons to local authority as well as shifting the burden for post-release supervision of this client base away from state parole to local authority.

Many of the issues with this shift, at least for local authority, is a secure funding stream for this very expensive activity. Assembly Bill 109, and some trailer bills, accomplished the legal shift and also moved 1.3 percent of the state sales tax revenue to the locals to pay for it. The trouble is this was done merely by an act of the legislature, making it fairly easy to weasel out of down the road. The locals are more than a little uneasy about the insecurity this represents.

To relieve this insecurity Governor Brown announced last week that he will introduce a ballot initiative for the November 2012 election that will write the funding for realignment into the state constitution, which will make it very, very difficult to change. (The ballot initiative has a long history in California, dating back to the early 20th century populist-progressive movement. It has resulted in the state constitution of California now being more than 600 pages.)

Another reason the Governor wants to do this is to be rid of the problem of parole, placing the monkey on somebody else's back so to speak. California has been under constant bombardment for years with criticism (inaccurate criticism by the way) of it's supposed 70 percent recidivism rate. This figure is not accurate because it uses a static model and not a dynamic one. Modeling it correctly would bring the figure down to more like 50%, but it wouldn't sell as many newspapers that way, or squeeze as much funding from the legislature. As of October 1 it wasn't the legislature's problem any more, and it was dropped squarely in the lap of the Boards of Supervisor's of the 58 counties.

Some of the counties have already directed that the Sheriff will supervise people released from custody after realignment. Others have directed the Chief Probation Officer to do so. The details and logistics are still being worked out as of this writing, with only 7 days left to implementation.

It will be interesting to see how the shift works out. I will try to keep you posted.

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