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California Prison Downsizing and Its Impact on Local Criminal Justice Systems

NCJ Number
Harvard Law & Policy Review Volume: 8 Dated: 2014 Pages: 327-359
Joan Petersilia
Date Published
June 2014
33 pages

Based on interviews with stakeholders involved in California's downsizing of State prisons by shifting responsibility for most lower level offenders from the State to counties, this study determined the impact this "Realignment" has had on local criminal justice systems.


Overall, of those interviewed (police, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and parole officers, victim advocates, offenders, and social-service workers), probation officials were the most enthusiastic advocates of Realignment, welcoming the rehabilitation focus of the Realignment legislation. County probation departments have opened day-reporting centers, expanded the use of risk-assessment tools, and worked with community partners to establish quality evidence-based programs for offenders. Public defenders were also optimistic about Realignment, but expressed concerns about the longer county jail terms their clients face. On the other hand, prosecutors generally gave negative views of Realignment, complaining about their loss of discretion under the law. Judges had mixed opinions, although most were concerned about a loss of discretion and increased workload. Law enforcement personnel varied more than any other group in their assessment of Realignment. Their opinions were largely influenced by local jail capacity. Sheriffs in particular were challenged by overloaded county jails and their ability to provide adequate medical and mental health care. In addition, jail crowding was forcing early release of some offenders. Some suggestions for changes to Realignment were allowing consideration of an offender's entire criminal history in determining whether the county or the State will supervise a parolee; capping county jail sentences at a maximum of 3 years; and permitting certain repeated technical violations to be punished with a prison sentence. 103 notes