On the brink of historic change: Realignment and the corrections system

150 150 Mark Baldassare

In what may be the first step of many to restructure California government with an eye toward making it more open, accountable to its citizens, and focused on results, the state’s corrections landscape will undergo a major shift starting next month. Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) discusses this historic change and how it impacts all levels of government.

California is about to embark on far-reaching changes in the way it manages adult prisons and jails. Beginning October 1, felons convicted of lower-level crimes will serve their sentences in county jail, rather than state prison. Upon release, they will report to county probation officers—rather than state parole agents. If they violate parole, they are likely to be sent to county jail or managed under alternative sanction programs. 

Motivated in part by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to reduce the state’s prison population, this shift is the focus of a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In Rethinking the State-Local Relationship: Corrections author Dean Misczynski details the changes, analyzes the funding issues, and weighs what this shift in responsibility will mean for both state and county government.  Misczynski, adjunct policy fellow at PPIC, says the shift in corrections is historic and the learning curve for counties will be steep.

The corrections report is part of PPIC’s ongoing series on realignment—a topic of renewed discussion among policymakers now that California’s budget crisis has forced a reconsideration of the roles of state and local government. The PPIC series is intended to inform the state legislature, state executive agencies, and local governments of all types—cities, counties, and special districts—as they think through these changes.

The feedback we have gotten so far points to a need for a broader conversation. The need is urgent. Major changes that affect all Californians have been proposed, approved, and—in the case of corrections—are already being implemented.  With our research and outreach efforts, PPIC will work in the coming months to increase public understanding of this complex issue, identify solutions, and move the discussion forward.

California Forward is working with counties – as well as stakeholders including chief probations officers and chiefs of police – to help them share best practices and provide needed technical assistance for this prison population shift, an example of restructuring government to make all levels more open and responsible to citizens. The organization’s technical expertise is based on a statewide needs assessment California Forward conducted over the last three months.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California


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