California is about to become the first state to undergo a major shift, in an effort to trim the state’s bulging prison population and cut costs. Starting this Saturday, the state’s new massive prisoner realignment plan begins.
Assembly Bill 109 shifts the responsibility for tens of thousands of low-level inmates from state prisons to county jails. The move will save the state money and help the state comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring that it reduce its overcrowded population by more than 30,000 inmates.
It’s been a hot- button issue in counties all summer long and in San Bernardino this week, a public forum was held with public safety, health officials and the County board of Supervisors in attendance.
Natasha Lindstrom with the Victorville Daily Press reported on the discussion:.
As the new criminal justice paradigm takes shape, critics fear crime rates will spike because already-strained county systems can’t handle the extra load, resulting in felons serving shorter sentences and posing a danger upon release.
But reformers predict California could actually grow safer, as counties prove they can do a better job at rehabilitating offenders for a lower cost.
Both possible outcomes were discussed at a public forum Monday afternoon in Victorville City Hall, where a panel of public safety and health officials outlined San Bernardino County’s plans for implementing AB 109.
“There’s no getting around the fact that this puts additional pressure on a system that’s already pretty much pushing capacity,” 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said. But he assured the public that county departments were “up to the task.”
“We do have the authority to release inmates just cold out into the street and we absolutely want to avoid that,” County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Lance Clark said.
The county is hiring more than 200 new public safety employees to help with the transition.
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. If implemented properly, this will be an example of restructuring government to make all levels more open and responsible to citizens.
Cheryl Getuiza is a communications specialist for California Forward.