Stanislaus County can help realignment work

OUR VIEW

April 30, 2013 

— Public safety realignment — making counties responsible for housing and supervising most low-level felons — is not working well, but neither is it the cause of, as one Republican senator claims, "the carnage that's occurring on our streets."

A noticeable increase in crime since realignment went into effect in October 2011 is cause for counties and the state to make adjustments to the policy change, not to try to make it go away. Realignment, initiated by Gov. Jerry Brown, was an answer to a federal court-ordered reduction in state prison populations and, in that regard, it is proving successful.

Assembly Bill 109 changed where people convicted of nonserious, nonviolent and nonsexual crimes ("non-non-nons") are incarcerated. Rather than being sentenced to state prison and later being released under state parole, they serve their time in county facilities and under the supervision of county probation departments. People convicted of serious, violent or sexual crimes go to state prisons; none has been released because of realignment.

People seem to forget that state prisons and state parole were doing an appalling job with lower-level offenders. Counties are in a better position to deal with people who live and commit crimes in their communities, including providing training, education and other interventions to reduce the chances they will re-offend. But the Legislature needs to make sure the counties have adequate resources to do what they're expected to do.

Unfortunately, a bill by Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, that would have provided additional dollars to local law enforcement, jail operations and other programs was defeated Monday by the Senate Budget Committee on a 5-9 vote.

Cannella's proposal, supported by Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, would have allocated this additional money in direct proportion to the number of "realigned" offenders in each county. Counties with higher numbers of offenders, many of them in the valley, should get more money, but that hasn't been the case.

Stanislaus County, however, has been fortunate in obtaining state funding to build additional facilities that include more jail beds, plus mental health units and programming space for inmate education and training.

That state money has influenced Sheriff Adam Christianson's view of realignment. He has gone from being a vocal critic to a cautious supporter.

"Despite immense challenges with realignment, with effective partnerships and teamwork at the local level, we are committed and will make it work," he told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board recently.

Christianson had been early to blame an uptick in crime to realignment, but now he acknowledges that it is "too soon to tell." With counties phasing in new approaches to reducing recidivism, he says, "It will be two to three years before we have real definitive data."

Because of limited jail space and the need to make room for the inmates who formerly would have gone to state prison, Stanislaus has released early some low-level offenders. And no doubt some of these people have committed other crimes.

But when alarmists claim that a person who finished the state prison term and was being supervised under county probation committed a serious crime, you should ask: Would that crime have been prevented if the person had been under state parole?

In the end, realignment is about doing things differently. County and state officials should be working together to make it work, not using it as fodder for more political rhetoric.

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