California's "realignment" of responsibilities for handling felons deemed to present little threat to the public is getting a decidedly mixed reaction from local law enforcement and judicial officials who are most intimately involved, according to a series of interviews conducted by the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center.
The report is the second in a projected series on realignment, the two-year-old program under which local agencies, rather than the state prison system, are incarcerating, supervising and supposedly treating low-level felons.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature enacted the program in response to federal court pressure to reduce overcrowding in the state prison system and it has dropped the prison population almost to the level decreed by the courts by diverting some new felons into local jails and stepping up parole of others into local care.
"Our interviews revealed a justice system undergoing remarkable changes, arguably
unprecedented in depth and scope," the Stanford report says. "Stakeholders' opinions varied widely, and their comments reflected their role in the system more than the county they represented.
"Overall, probation officials were the most enthusiastic champions of realignment,
welcoming the momentum the legislation provided their rehabilitation focus."
"Public defenders are also optimistic," the summary continues, "but expressed concerns
about the longer county jail terms their clients face and the conditions under which they
are served. Conversely, prosecuting attorneys generally gave realignment negative
reviews, lamenting their loss of discretion under the law.
"Judges expressed mixed opinions, although most were concerned about a loss of discretion and said AB 109 had greatly increased the courts' workload. Law enforcement - both front line police and sheriffs - varied more than any other group in their assessment of realignment, with their opinions largely influenced by local jail capacity.
"While most police applauded the spirit of realignment, including the expansion of local control and treatment options for offenders, all of those interviewed worried about declining public safety."
Critics of realignment found some support in the Stanford report - especially its call for considering a felon's previous record, rather than his or her last offense, when judging them suitable for local handling, rather than state prison, and keeping those with extensive records behind state bars.
The report also called for creating a statewide database of offenders so that county officers can find out what's happening to parolees and probationers in other counties, limiting local jail terms to three years and requiring tougher terms for habitual "technical" violations of parole.
PHOTO: Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Chris Carroll opens a cell on Sept. 27, 2011, at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove then slated to be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under California's new prison realignment program. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli