New Realignment studies reveal both the good and bad of the policy

150 150 Michael Santos

Risk-assessment studies have noted a majority of those released on parole are of high risk to re-offend. (Photo Credit: Auntie P)

The California Realignment, also known as AB 109, has been receiving considerable attention. Although the law does not affect me directly, I’m still convinced that AB 109 holds great promise for the making of a better, more effective criminal justice system. It pleases me to review research by Stanford scholars who are collecting data that helps me understand the law better.

Although budgets did not allocate funding for a statewide research evaluation, Professor Joan Petersilia and Jessica Snyder, a third-year law student at Stanford, have been part of a team that made a study of how the 58 different counties in California were implementing the legislation. They came up with some revealing findings.

At first glance, it looked as if the counties were not investing sufficient resources into evidence-based programs that would prepare more offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release. Further reflection upon the data that the team of researchers collected, however, suggests that the counties understood the influx of people they were going to receive under AB 109, and they responded accordingly with the first wave of funding.

During the first two years of Realignment, California’s 58 counties will have received more than $2 billion. The Stanford researchers found that “while there was a great deal of variation in the proposed county spending plans,” the California average funding allocation for the first year of realignment was as follows:

  •          35 percent of the funds went to the sheriff’s department, primarily for jail operations;
  •          34 percent of the funds went to the probation department, primarily for supervision and programs;
  •          12 percent of the funds went for programs and services provided by other agencies, such as for substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing assistance, and employment services;
  •          19 percent of the funds were held on reserve.

Those numbers confirmed that the lion’s share of resources went into building capacity. Perhaps the counties needed to make that investment in order to handle the influx of prisoners they would be charged with the responsibility of overseeing. After all, the study showed that officials estimated that California county probation officers would have to assume responsibility for supervising an additional 40,000 to 60,000 prisoners who were released in 2012.

Professor Petersilia’s research team uncovered alarming data about people who would serve parole terms under AB 109 county supervision. Fifty-six percent of those offenders scored “high” on risk-assessment tools that measured a likelihood of their reoffending.

With that information in hand, perhaps it made sense for county officials to deploy the first wave of funds that came in for Realignment to invest in resources that would help them accommodate the offenders who would begin living in local communities. After all, county officials would not only handle the low-risk offenders coming into the system, but they would also be flooded with offenders of all backgrounds who were returning to society from state prison.

Realignment made good sense in that it aspired to make better use of criminal justice resources. Under Realignment, society reserved prisons for the serious offenders who truly preyed on society. It reserved jail for moderate or low-risk offenders who might respond well to evidence-base programs that led to lower recidivism. Realignment provided resources for people who needed guidance to live as contributing citizens in the community.

County officials have used their first wave of funding to build capacity, but there is reason to believe that they’re now well positioned to make bigger investments in evidence-based programs that have been shown to help more people transition into society as law-abiding, taxpaying citizens. Some counties have invested in day-reporting centers, or mentoring programs, for example, which could be a sign of more AB 109 investments to come.

In addition to AB 109 funding, philanthropic organizations, local politicians, and employers are beginning to support this movement toward building a smarter, more effective criminal justice system. In San Joaquin County, for example, a new coalition includes substantial financial sponsorship from both The California Wellness Foundation and The Sierra Health Foundation, The Cornerstone Project, political support from Stockton Councilman Michael Tubbs, and employment training from Golden State Lumber. 

Cumulatively, those stakeholders have invested more than $250,000 to sponsor The Michael G. Santos Foundation’s pilot reentry program known as The Straight-A Guide. That coalition of support will allow us to begin teaching at-risk populations the values-based, goal-oriented strategies that prepared me to return to society as a law-abiding citizen while I served a quarter century in prison. As we collect data on our pilot-program’s effectiveness, we intend to present our program to counties across the state with hopes of helping more offenders embrace self-directed paths to reform.


Michael Santos

All stories by: Michael Santos