Published March 22, 2012
Facing a budget crunch and pressure from the courts, California Gov. Jerry Brown is chipping away at the state's tough-on-crime approach by shifting 33,000 felons out of the state's prison system. Releasing prisoners early is rarely popular, so the governor came up with a new plan, coining it realignment.
"People who commit low-level offenses, or parole offenses, are now serving their time in the county jail instead of being sentenced to state prison," explains California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matt Cate. The state has transferred nearly 22,500 prisoners, or 15 percent of the inmate population, to the counties since last October.
The problem is, many of California's county jails are already filled to capacity, and are having to release inmates well before their sentences have been served.
In Los Angeles, Lindsay Lohan served only four hours of a month-long sentence. Lesser known offenders, like James Lucio and Angel Espinoza, were re-arrested for committing more crimes just days after their release in Gilroy.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich doesn't want those extra prisoners, and doesn't mince words.
"The governor is nuts," Antonovich says. "He has committed a political malpractice that's going to threaten the safety economically, and the safety of every individual in this state, through this reckless policy and it ought to be repealed."
Realignment supporters say that new methods of monitoring and rehabilitation will actually reduce crime from its current historical low, but it's a strategy never tried on this scale before, and the state needs to shed another 15,000 inmates between now and next summer.
In exchange for taking on all those extra prisoners, California's 58 counties are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the state to pay for housing and rehabilitation. But the ACLU just released a report saying too much of that money is going toward rebuilding or expanding jail capacity, rather than on alternatives to incarceration.
Other critics are quick to call the governor 'soft on crime' and statistics show that during Brown's first stint as governor 30 years ago, California's violent crime rate soared 36 percent.
The governor's realignment plan is just now being implemented, but bottom line is that, whatever it's called, thousands of prisoners will be walking the street in the biggest shakeup of California's criminal justice system in decades.