This week in Realignment: June 14, 2013

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Last week, we touted a study by Californians for Safety and Justice as giving a voice to one of the oft overlooked key stakeholders in public safety realignment: the victims of crime.

It got us thinking: we spend a lot of effort writing about the legislative and institutional side of AB 109. Now that the fervor of May has died down, we have seen a marked increase in the number of stories talking about the more human side of realignment.

It’s worth revisiting the victims’ poll mentioned above. In the survey, a majority said that we send too many people to prison, not too few. By a two-to-one margin, they wanted the focus to be on supervised probation and rehabilitation over incarceration. They wanted more money funneled to mental health and addiction treatment over incarceration by a three-to-one margin. Three out of four of the victims polled actually felt that prison sharpened criminal instincts, not dulled them.

And 65 percent of those polled are generally in favor of Gov. Brown’s realignment plan. But does all of this constitute an anomaly? Not according to a few recent news stories that were published this week.

First and foremost is another study, this time coming out of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, which essentially says that Californians are in favor of taking realignment further than Gov. Brown’s plan has thus far. The numbers speak for themselves: 63 percent of those polled were in favor of early release for low-level, non-violent offenders and 72 percent were in favor of sentence reduction for minor crimes.

It’s a dramatic shift in the public narrative when victims of crimes and average Californians either stand by Gov. Brown’s current plan or are in favor of taking it further. Just one short year ago it was all doom, gloom and fear mongering about realignment to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Gov. Brown’s stand-off with the court could even be construed as a populist ploy to stall a seemingly unpopular prison experiment in AB 109 as his reelection campaign is about to heat up.

But the public is gaining real knowledge and, at least according to these two polls, are increasingly weary of the incarcerate-at-all-costs, human warehousing model that has defined corrections in California for decades. It is encouraging to say the least.

Assuming these two polls, and articles such as this one talking about a group of Republican women in Chico taking interest in realignment, are representative of the larger state populace, Californians are hungry for information and once they have it, they are willing to grant the public capital to make smart decisions about how to ensure our public safety investments are improving public  safety.

We recently paid a visit to the Rio Consumnes Correction Facility in Elk Grove, about 30 minutes outside of Sacramento. We spoke with Captain Milo Fitch, who is certainly one of the more progressive, forward thinking people in charge of a county jail. He is armed with knowledge of the type of programming that makes a difference in offender’s lives, shows them that someone cares, and affords them the treatment and training to exit his jail ready to make positive contributions. AB 109 granted him the license and the funding to institute these practices across the board at his jail.

We look forward to presenting a video piece showcasing interviews with both Captain Fitch and an intriguing inmate who represents the failures of the old-world revolving door philosophy and the potential success for the new-world made possible by realignment.

Should the public bear witness to what we saw while visiting Rio Consumnes, it’s likely that this trend we see bearing itself out in polling will continue to gain momentum across the state. The media are coming around, as are lawmakers. Captain Fitch told us that both entities make frequent visits to his facility to see what they are doing differently than the failed past practices of the state prison system.

Through the continued efforts of the Partnership, we hope to shed a light on exactly that for you as well.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson