In defense of AB 109

Prison realignment is not as bad as portrayed

The cooperative effort by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Chico to employ those serving out-of-jail sentences to help keep Caper Acres playground open presents a good argument for a state law that has been misleadingly—and mercilessly—criticized by local representatives, including state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber).

Assembly Bill 109—the Public Safety Realignment Act passed by the Legislature two years ago and triggered by order of the U.S. Supreme Court—has reduced the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons by about 28,000 since October 2011 by sending low-level felons to county jails rather than into state custody. There is a persistent misconception that the bill actually transferred those serving time in state prison to local jails, which is simply not true.

According to a fact sheet from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, under AB 109, “newly convicted low-level offenders without current or prior serious or violent offenses stay in county jail to serve their sentence; this has reduced the annual admissions [to state prison] to less than 35,000 a year. Prior to realignment, there were approximately 55,000 to 65,000 new admissions.”

Of course, that has put pressure on the Butte County Jail and, as such, there is a need to let some prisoners out before their sentences are finished. And that is where the Alternative Custody Supervision (ACS) program and the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program come into play. They offer those under “house arrest,” which means wearing an electronic ankle detector and not leaving home without permission, to give their time and labor back to the community.

The CN&R commends those involved in this effort, including Butte County Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Duch; Chico City Councilman Randall Stone, who introduced the idea; the rest of the council, which supported it unanimously; and especially those who are taking part in order to reduce their sentences and give back to their community.