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Realignment and the Law of Unintended Consequences

by | Dec 2, 2013 | Criminal Defense

In 2011, due to extreme prison overcrowding and as a result of Supreme Court directive, AB 109 and AB 117 were signed into law by Governor Edmund Brown, Jr.

AB 109 and AB 117, better known as “Realignment” ordered The California Department of Corrections to reduce the number of California inmates incarcerated in prison facilities. Rather than release prisoners outright, modify or shorten sentences, the reduction in prison population has for the most part been effectuated by transferring State Prisoners with shorter sentences to jail facilities at the County level and ordering that State Prisoners with non-violent felony convictions and less than a three year sentence serve their sentence via “local prison” in County Jail facilities across the state which have received additional funding from Department of Corrections to house these prisoners.

While Realignment has initially in the short-term reduced the number of persons incarcerated in California Department of Corrections facilities (prison), the overall number of persons incarcerated in California has not appreciably diminished but merely shifted a percentage of those incarcerated into County (jail) facilities. County jails across the state of California are now operating at or near capacity, which was previously not the case pre-Realignment. The influx of prisoners to County Jails caused by Realignment has caused many consequences; some intended and some not. On the one hand, petty offenses and low level felonies which had previously resulted in jail sentences are now being treated as “alternatives to custody” for punishment. On the other hand, County Jail has become a much more dangerous place for inmates and Sheriff Deputies alike.

Recently, as printed in the San Diego Union Tribune, Reporter Don Thompson penned the following article discussing the rise in jail violence resulting from the shift in prison population due to Realignment. Click here to read the article.

Mr. Thompson’s article describes a post-realignment “surge in the number of inmate fights and attacks on jail employees,” citing the hard figure that as compared to the year before “nearly 2,000 more jail inmates were assaulted by other inmates in the first year after the realignment law took effect.”

Although arguably foreseeable, it is unlikely that Realignment intended to make jail a more dangerous place. That said, as a result of Realignment jail has clearly become more dangerous now than it used to be, and the overall number of incarcerated persons in California remains the same. Should this be considered progress? Personally, I’m not so sure.

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