This week in realignment: May 24, 2013

150 150 Christopher Nelson

One week removed from the governor’s budget revision that by all accounts was a resounding success for its adjustments to public safety realignment, the word of the day continues to be “data.”

 The CDCR released a report tracking the initial phase of realignment based on just 6 months worth of data. Many are using it as a tool to advance their own causes, but the reality is that it is based on just 6 months of data. 

“The people who are using CDCR’s report to say realignment is or is not reducing recidivism are wasting their breath because it simply doesn’t tell us much other than the world hasn’t fallen apart, which some believed would happen.” said Sharon Aungst, Director of the Partnership.

There is no question that CDCR is reporting accurate data, but how it is framed in a report is a political thing. You can spin it positively (which in this case they did), but the same data could also be spun negatively. The most accurate assessment is that it’s too early to tell.

Luckily, both the media and many lawmakers have started to come around to the view of realignment as something that is likely to reap benefits in the long-term…and the subsequent need of stats to ensure we can course correct along the way.

Abe Maldonado’s attempt to make realignment a wedge issue by playing to public fears on the topic was largely panned and stalled his campaign to unseat Gov. Brown before it got out of the gates. Similar fates awaited Republican legislation in Sacramento to the same.

And despite the many machinations coming from his office so far this year in his dealings with the courts, Gov. Brown showed a willingness to listen and a resolve to relieve the counties of additional burden while still holding them accountable for what they have.

The narrative is shifting. All that remains is the need for the state to provide leadership in measuring the impact of realignment.  We have to know if one of the biggest experiments in criminal justice is succeeding or not and we need to know this over the long haul so we can fix problems before they are completely out of our control (i.e. the 3 Judge Panel). 

Clearly this kind of evaluation of impact is critical for counties.  In counties that are just making the philosophical shift from the old world, revolving door, incarcerate at all costs way of thinking to a more evidence-based approach focused on targeting those who need rehabilitation over jail time, they are bound to make mistakes along the way.  To improve performance they need to collect and analyze their data to improve performance.

Gov. Brown did provide leadership in proposing additional funding for probation based on SB 678 incentives – rewarding those who achieve specific results in reducing recidivism. 

Recidivism will still need to be lowered, that is the key to success.  So counties must have processes in place to collect and analyze their data and use it to improve performance.  This is the crux of the data issue. It’s akin to putting a first time fighter jet pilot into an F-16 with no guidance systems and no wingman. A crash is inevitable.

Now that the narrative on public safety realignment is shifting from calling it a grotesque blight on counties and their communities to one seeing it as an opportunity to actually overhaul our entire mode of thinking, let’s be sure that chance isn’t squandered because we forgot our flashlight.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson