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The "realignment" of California's criminal justice system, implemented in response to a Supreme Court decree to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, has shifted 38,000 felons from the state to local authorities so far, according to an initial study.

The study, conducted by the Chief Probation Officers of California with a foundation grant, says that 23,000 prison inmates have been released into supervision by local probation officers, rather than by state parole agents, and an additional 15,000 felons have been diverted into local jails and probation rather than being sent to state prison.

The underlying concept of the program is to reduce the number of felons deemed to have little propensity for violent crime in the state prison system. So far, the study says, the prison population, once over 160,000, has dropped to under 140,000.

"It is clear that realignment is already dramatically changing criminal justice in California, with the state prison population under 140,000 for the first time since 1996," Steve Bordin, president of CPOC and chief probation officer of Butte County, said in a statement accompanyng the report. "Our goal is to put out data for public consumption and analysis. It is important to have facts available to guide policy decisions as we implement this historic reform."

Critics of realignment have contended that locking up fewer felons in prison and putting more low-level offenders on probation would result in higher crime rates. The CPOC says that it's too early to make conclusions about recidivism but that future reports will delve into that aspect of realignment. The study did find, however, that only a relative handful of felons failed to report to local probation departments after either release from prison or sentencing and thus had arrest warrants issued.

So far, the study concluded, the number of felons shifted from state to local incarceration and supervision has closely tracked predictions, although there are some regional variations. The 12-county central valley region received 8 percent more felons than predicted while the Sacramento and Bay Area regions got 5 percent fewer.

Realignment, which also shifts some health and welfare programs from the state to counties, is being financed by a more than $5 billion per year tax diversion. Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax increase ballot measure, Proposition 30, would guarantee future financing through a constitutional amendment.


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