This week in Realignment: April 5, 2013

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Much of the action this week in public safety  realignment happened in Sacramento. Some lawmakers feel that it’s time to start tweaking the basics of AB 109 while others think it’s still too early in the game to change things up.

What’s clear is that things are unclear. There is no state-mandated effort to collect data and generate any substantive, statewide analysis of realignment thus far. We are a year and a half in to realignment and we still don’t know what success is supposed to look like.

California Forward believes that realignment is one of the most critical issues it is working on because of the importance of helping local governments work together to affect real systemic change. There are few bigger issues in California than the amount of money spent on public safety and how we spend it. 

Let’s take a look at the week.

Time to correct course? Legislation that would have granted power to judges to remit sex offenders back to state prisons for a parole violation was defeated in committee this week. “We are tweaking a flawed program,” said Assemblyman Eric Linder (R-Corona), the bill’s sponsor. A similar bill pertaining to high level drug dealers was also defeated in committee. “I do think it’s a little early in the game. I’m not saying there couldn’t be real tweaks,” said committee Chairman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who spearheaded the defeat of Linder’s bill. There is a lot of speculation out there circulating in the media about things like increased property crimes post-realignment, but without data, it’s just that: speculation. It boils down to a case of we don’t know what we don’t know.

GPS tracking devices easily removed by parolees. One thing we do know, however, is that conventional methods don’t always work. Much has been said this week about the ease with which parolees are ditching their GPS monitoring devices. The Associated Press even wrote about convicts being released with no monitoring whatsoever. When issues like these take center stage for the week, it makes the Partnership’s championing of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration that much more vital. Simply doing more of what we already do isn’t enough. A statewide paradigm shift is required and those counties that have allocated realignment funds toward evidence-based practices and toward reducing pre-trial detainees have seen measurable success. 

Would we recognize success if we achieved it? Speaking of success…this is one of the harder issues to tackle. Gov. Brown has gone on record calling realignment a success. He even took the fight back to contending that California had fulfilled its obligations under the Supreme Court mandate. This may be true at state facilities, but some of the same issues that plagued those state prisons followed relocated prisoners to the county level. The voices calling for changes to AB 109 are growing louder and Gov. Brown has admitted behind closed doors, according to the Sacramento Bee, that he may be in favor of some changes as well. But amending AB 109 without first defining what success at the County level will be is a fruitless endeavor. The rules are supposed to be a means to an end and without a decree from the state as to what that end is, the patchwork, county-by-county approach to realignment will continue unabated.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson