Assessing realignment

It’s far too soon to know whether realignment is or isn’t working

A Public Policy Institute report this week linking prison realignment to a 7.6 percent hike in property crimes statewide, especially auto theft, appears to substantiate conservatives’ insistence that realignment, which sends people convicted of nonviolent, nonserious and non-sexual crimes (the so-called “nons”) to jail rather than prison, is causing a “crime wave” in California.

Yes, the number of property crimes has gone up slightly, but not in all counties. Some, like Placer and El Dorado, have seen decreases. Calling it a “crime wave” is hyperbole.

It’s important to remember that, pushed by a court order to reduce the prison population, state corrections officials have diverted more than 18,000 convicts to county jails. Many of these facilities are so crowded that jail officials have to release prisoners to make room as fast as they come in.

It’s too soon to say realignment isn’t working. It will be several years before we know its long-term effects. Crime rates remain at historically low levels, and the state is investing heavily in rehabilitation and crime-prevention programs. As Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a written statement, “The impact of these investments will be measured over years, not months.”

On the other hand, realignment is not working well when it comes to people sentenced to “county prison.” Consider the case of Alfred Driscol, a Chico attorney sentenced this week to five years in jail for defrauding and stealing from some of his clients. Driscol had no prior record, he’s 65 years old and his heart is bad, and his crimes fall into the “nons” categories. Previously, he would have been sent to a low-security and relatively mellow prison camp. Instead, he will do hard time in the Butte County Jail. There’s no excusing his crimes, but the punishment is harsher than it should be, thanks to realignment.