Calif. realignment 2011: The ball is rolling, but is it rolling downhill?

Realignment became officially operational on October 1 in the formerly great state of California

By Bob Walsh

Realignment became officially operational on October 1 in the formerly great state of California. That plan, as expressed by AB 109 passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, shifts a lot of the programs, problems and (maybe) funding for the criminal justice system to local jurisdiction. This fact, combined with a few other not so obvious issues, will have a massive impact on the state's criminal justice system for the foreseeable future.

First some of the secondary issue, or possibly unintended consequences issues depending on how you look at it. The state is required by its constitution to fund public education with about 48 percent of the money available to the general fund.

Realignment shifted a couple of billion dollars away from the state by diverting 1.3 percent of the state sales tax to the local jurisdictions. This means that K-12 education is not getting its 48 percent cut of that money. The education lobby doesn't like that.

In addition the funding for the local jurisdictions is not firm. It was handled by a simple act of the legislature. Next year the funding could easily go away, though the responsibilities will not. The governor has promised to attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to secure the funding. It is relatively easy to do that in California. This has created a State Constitution that is more than 600 pages in length. Most of these changes have been enacted by the public through the initiative process.

Another of the consequences of the state's financial situation has been the almost total destruction of the old California Youth Authority, now called the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). At one time this program was a glowing beacon in the field. People came from literally all over the world to see how we did it. It has now become an expensive, sad joke. It cost about $250,000 per year to keep a person in the DJJ. The counties have to pay much of that cost themselves, where the state pays them to keep juvenile delinquents in local facilities. As a result DJJ facilities have been closing left and right.

The parole operation of DJJ has just been folded in to DAPO (Division of Adult Parole) which is itself scheduled to start shrinking drastically in about 6 months due to other aspects of realignment. Starting in about two weeks a large portion of the DJJ staff will begin transitional training to work at adult institutions. It is probable that DJJ will not totally disappear. There are some juvenile criminals who simply can not be handled in local facilities. It will, however, almost certainly never again be what it once was.

Starting last month, many people convicted of what are described (not completely accurately) as non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenses will do their time in county lockup. There has so far only been one walk-away escape of a realignment criminal, and he was recaptured in about one day. There have, as far as I know, been no serious problems with them. Yet. The problems are yet to come, based on numbers if nothing else.

The larger jurisdictions are picking up population much sooner than expected. L.A. County expects to max out before Christmas. Sacramento County wants to reopen some closed down bed space, but is running in to opposition. The pro-treatment lobby wants to use those funds for treatment of criminals rather than to house them. That angle on the problem is gaining some steam.

The local jurisdictions are still working to hire either a parole division or more probation officers, depending on which way they decide to go. It hasn't been as fast for many of them as they might have thought.

In the meantime the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation is getting its ducks in a row for potentially massive layoffs. The state has just started sending out about 26,000 SROA (layoff warning) notices. This is admittedly about five or six times more than is strictly necessary, but there may easily be three waves of shifts and reallocations based on seniority and closing beds.

This rapid population drop is reaction to a 9th Circuit court order, demanding that the state reduce its overcrowding from about 200 percent of design capacity to about 137 percent of design capacity. This will require that the state dump about 44,000 criminals into alternative housing or release them within the next 18 months. No matter which course is ultimately followed, the state will need less staffing at the state level.

Fortunately the department is down about 2,500 officers right now. It is generally believed that if a person has more than ten years in grade they are probably pretty safe. If they have less than three years in, maybe even five years, they may have to relocate or accept an intermittent position (PICO) or entry into an Overtime Avoidance Pool (OTAP) position which would have a 40 hour work week but not a guaranteed schedule.

The PICO officers will generally get the 13 shifts per month they need to maintain their seniority and health benefits. Unfortunately these positions may or may not be available at the location the employee currently works and the state will not pay relocation for these moves. With the current real estate market and the prevalence of working spouses, relocation may not be a realistic option for many. This internal upheaval within the department is expected to last about three years.

The ball has been set into motion. Whether it will bring the claimed decrease in recidivism at reduced cost or the feared increase in crime on the streets is an open question. The professionals in the business are betting on the latter.

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