On Friday, KQED’s Forum hosted a great debate on the state’s plan for reducing prison overcrowding. The plan has been widely embraced by prison reform advocates as a shake-up in the way California handles low-level offenders. Others, like Kern County’s Chief Probation Officer David Kuge fear that the counties will be overwhelmed by the responsibility of handling many more offenders, many of them more deeply embroiled in criminality than your average jail inmate. Some interesting tidbits from the hour:
- According to Alameda County’s Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad, counties that currently send more people to prison will, in turn, now get more money from the state to keep these folks locally. Sounds like a fair trade on its face, Muhammad said, but it isn’t. According to a recent study out of the Santa Clara School of Law, 18 counties in California (there are 58 total) disproportionately send offenders to state prison. And that disparity has nothing to do with crime rates–it’s simply a matter of dependency on the state system and state resources, and how local prosecutors charge crimes. That means that counties in the Bay Area like San Francisco and Alameda, which have deliberately kept more offenders at the local level, will not get as much money through realignment.
- Stanford Professor Joan Petersillia mentioned an interesting irony related to California’s Three Strikes Law. Those who’re charged under the law cannot be sent to local jails and will still be sent to state prison under realignment. As discussed in this space previously, a person who’s been convicted of a first strike can be charged with an additional strike for what many would consider non-serious crimes. That means if a person is a “striker” and has a serious or violent felony on their record, they can potentially earn a second strike for something like stealing a bottle of liquor. Realignment, Petersillia mentioned, puts this particular practice in perspective. It’s entirely possible that come October 1, a person who’s not a striker would end up in jail for a few months for stealing a bottle of liquor. Someone who is already a striker could end up in state prison for years for the exact same offense.
The full hour is well worth listening to, with additional perspectives from Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and State Corrections Secretary Matt Cate.