Realignment–What’s the Real Story?

150 150 John Guenther

It was another busy week in the world of public safety realignment in California as the argument continues over the implementation of AB 109 and AB 117 signed by Governor Brown in 2011, historic legislation that has helped enable California to close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons.

It is the cornerstone of California’s solution for reducing the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prison to 137.5 percent of design capacity as ordered by the Three-Judge Panel and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The original order set the deadline for June 27, 2013 but the Three-Judge Panel recently extended that deadline by six months.

One big controversy is over affordability where counties complain about the influx of persons into their public safety programs. Senator Anthony Cannella, a Republican from Ceres, is one who thinks counties are being unfairly hit economically, so he introduced legisaltion this week.

“Prison realignment was proposed as a ‘safe and secure’ program to reduce our state prison population. Unfortunately, what has happened is we have overburdened our local jails by not providing them the resources they need to adequately deal with these criminals,” said Senator Cannella. “As a result, some of these criminals are being sent back on the street earlier than they should have and are reoffending.”

But is it really causing public safety problems around California?

The data seem to show it is still too early to tell.

Syndicated Columnist Thomas Elias wrote this week that despite anecdotal data being used in different counties around the state, the overall numbers just don’t tell any story, whether realignment is “working or not.”

Elias writes: “It’s a mixed bag, with preliminary numbers for the first six months of last year showing violent crime in major cities may have climbed 4 percent and property crime 9 percent. But even with that, crime overall appears to be well below the historic peaks of the 1980s. And in 2011, California crime ranked third from the bottom among the 10 largest states.

Even California’s top political writer, Dan Walters weighed in recently and he argued that the state needs someone trusted to given an honest analysis of where the realignment program is over 15 months after implementation.  

Walters points out how different groups are using different data to make their case. Pro-realignment groups are touting a new study of four California cities by the Council of State of Governments Justice Center that says only 22% of total arrest were made of probationers and parolees before realignment and were even a lesser portion of violent crime arrests. But the anti-realignment Criminal Justice Legal Foundation quoted FBI crime data showing a 7.6% increase in homicides and bigger increases in burglary and auto theft in California during the first half of last year, concluding, as Walters says “Crime is increasing under realignment”.

California Forward’s Partnership for Community Excellence has been trying to be that source to convene a real conversation in counties around the state and provide information and assistance to enable county officials and local criminal justice agencies to build the infrastructure and integrated systems necessary to implement Realignment and mostly to improve public safety outcomes.  

If you are confused about Realignment–and lots of Californians are–here is an interesting questions and answer sheet developed by the California State Association of Counties that can be found on the California Forward website. 


John Guenther

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