This week has seen the fervor over both the CDCR report, Gov. Brown’s May budget revision and Abel Maldonado’s failed bid to turn public safety realignment into an election wedge issue finally taper off.
As such, no one story is dominating the headlines, so we present a digest of a few items that we found especially interesting and/or important.
Split Sentencing: This has been a hot topic since it was introduced as an option with the debut of AB 109 back in October of 2011. As explained on SFgate.com, once someone is convicted, counties “can jail them for their full sentence, only to watch them hit the street with no follow-up, or ‘split’ their sentence by building in a stretch of probation supervision designed to transition them back into the community.” Many times a split sentence doesn’t allow an offender enough time to take advantage of in-house programs at county jails that would certify them in an area such as welding, allowing them to contribute positively upon their release instead of falling back into the same criminal cycle. At the same time, every case is different and monitoring people as they re-enter society is equally as important as giving them skills while they are inside. The key takeaway is that individual risk and needs assessment is necessary in every instance.
This is vastly important issue in the realm of public safety realignment, and as such, the PCE is sponsoring a forum on June 21st entitled “Opportunities and Challenges in the Use of Split Sentencing in California.” Registration links and further info here.
Rehabilitation Works: San Joaquin County joins the growing number of counties eschewing old-world thinking in favor of new approaches that don’t turn to incarceration as a catch-all solution. At the center of their new approach is understanding that repeat, low-level offenders view jail as a rest period with a solid routine of sleep, three meals a day and television. They come out recharged and ready to cause more trouble and would much rather stay in this cycle than enter programs that address their behavioral and/or substance abuse issues. The shift in philosophy came about when a judge kept seeing the same people show up in his courtroom and it has resulted in a sharp reduction in repeat offenses since AB 109’s implementation.
Victims in Favor of Rehabilitation: It’s not just law enforcement and the judicial system opposing blanket incarceration: victims of crime also prefer rehabilitation over jail time according to a new, extremely revealing survey just released by Californians for Safety and Justice. They surveyed “2,600 Californians that matched the state’s demographics and geographies according to the 2010 Census.” We found five bullet points from their press release particularly enlightening:
- When asked about California’s rates of incarceration, more victims say that we send “too many” people to prison than “too few.”
- Victims want a focus on supervised probation and rehabilitation by a two-to-one margin over prisons and jails.
- Victims prefer investments in mental health and drug treatments by a three-to-one margin over incarceration.
- Three in four victims believe that prisons either make inmates better at committing crimes or have no impact at all. Only a small minority believes that prisons rehabilitate people.
- Sixty-five percent of victims support Governor Brown’s Public Safety Realignment law that, in 2011, shifted responsibility and funding for people convicted of nonviolent, non-serious offenses from the state to counties.
Often left out of the conversation, this survey gives voice to victims of the crime, who are an important piece of the puzzle. If those who are most traumatized by crime itself are making the same recognitions as us at the Partnership, many in the media and increasingly, lawmakers, it only reinforces the need for an approach that favors rehabilitation and counseling. In fact, it should indicate the need to double down.
These findings are in intersect with a report co-authored by Stanford professor and researcher Joan Petersilia at the end of April. Titled “Voices from the Field: California Victims’ Rights in A Post-Realignment World,” Petersilia “attempts to bring victim service providers back into the conversation surrounding Realignment.” Especially given their support for the program, it does seem like a drastic oversight, as Petersilia concludes, that victims service providers are not given a seat at the table in the Community Corrections Partnership (which determines allocation of AB 109 funding from the state) in every county.
The Nation gets it right: In discussing such a complex issue, sometimes we would get too mired down in providing context to every statement and every recommendation we make. For those needing a fantastic historical perspective on realignment sprinkled with a well-reported human element, look no further than a recent piece published by The Nation in which author Tim Stelloh interviews California Forward’s President and CEO Jim Mayer and does an excellent job offering much needed context on what is now famously dubbed “the largest scale prison experiment in United States history.”