Realignment results

Reports say state prison plan is working

Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith in the Butte County Jail, where some felons now spend their incarcerations under AB 109.

Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith in the Butte County Jail, where some felons now spend their incarcerations under AB 109.

CN&R file photo

Two recently released reports indicate that, despite some political claims to the contrary, the state’s prisoner-realignment effort is working both locally and statewide. Based on Assembly Bill 109, and triggered by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, the realignment 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.

Still, there remains a misconception that realignment transfers felons from state to county incarceration or releases them early. According to a fact sheet from the state 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 from county courts to state prison.”

According to the state report, since AB 109 went into effect, no offenders have received an early release from state prison, and post-realignment recidivism has actually decreased.

The new info counters the statements by such state representatives as Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) and Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Loma Rica), who have warned constituents that realignment is putting local communities at risk.

Last October, Nielsen held a press conference at the State Capitol and said, “This legislation, unlike any other before, has unleashed an unprecedented crime wave across the state over the past year, and it started in the very first week. This crime wave is real; AB 109 is not working.”

In March, Logue commented on Republican bills introduced to counter realignment: “The governor’s program has been a disaster. We have more hardcore criminals on the streets. We have to reduce this trend. The people of California don’t feel safe anymore.”

A May 20 press release introducing an assessment of AB 109 made by an interdisciplinary Chico State faculty group, the Consortium for Public Safety Research, says local implementation of the plan has resulted in “positive results in Butte County’s response to the shift of some felony offenders from state prisons to county jails.”

The report made three main findings:

• That felons in Butte County’s alternative-custody program, who served their sentences outside of jail by wearing an electronic-monitor ankle device, had a first-year recidivism rate of 14 percent, which is lower than comparison-group estimates.

• Butte’s AB 109 offenders were more likely to report they needed rehabilitative and therapeutic services compared to those jailed for misdemeanors.

• The risk of the program’s failure could be predicted by a number of social and criminal facts about the individuals as well as from the results of a survey of the offenders that rated their general attitudes. The report, titled “Considering the Life-Course of Crime: Contextualizing California’s AB 109 Offender under Correctional Supervision,” was written up by political science professors Sally Anderson, Jon Caudill, Ryan Patten and Matthew Thomas.

Caudill said the county’s response to AB 109 contributed to “a respectable and substantially reduced recidivism rate given the nature of these correctional clients.”

The report, he said, “adds critically important information to the current debates surrounding criminal-justice realignment.”

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who’s criticized AB 109 in the past, said the new local report was welcome news.

“Generally we agree with the report, and the District Attorney’s Office is very pleased that it shows that the process is working for AB 109 here,” he said.

Butte County Sheriff Jerry Smith said he was also pleased with the report.

“This report reaffirms that we are making headway in our ongoing effort to enhance public safety by reducing recidivism,” he said. “The research conducted by the Chico State researchers is invaluable, and enables us to deploy our limited resources in a manner likely to achieve the best outcomes.”