Los Angeles County officials have a powerful tool at their disposal to keep felons from committing more crimes in the future – but they’re not using it.
As the L.A. Times explained in its recent editorial "Stop the revolving jail door," 'split sentencing' has the potential to help offenders and crime victims alike, by “breaking the cycle of offending, being locked up, returning to the streets and offending again.”
Despite the clear benefits of split sentences – which involve shorter jail sentences followed by mandatory supervision for low-level non-violent felons – L.A. County lags behind other California counties. A mere 4 percent of L.A. County sentences are split sentences, according to the L.A. Times. The statewide average – excluding L.A. County – is 32 percent. If L.A. brought its split sentencing rate up to the statewide average, the jail population could decline by between 1,500 and 2,000 inmates, based on a reasonable projection.
Under AB 109, which the state passed in 2011, counties have the power to impose split sentences for low-level felons. But, as the L.A. Times made clear, “Los Angeles County and its courts are squandering the opportunity presented by AB 109 to return corrections and rehabilitation to the criminal justice system. If they can't make use of split sentencing on their own — and so far they have demonstrated that they can't — they will need to be pushed.”
The L.A. Times editorial is further confirmation that officials are neglecting the County’s criminal justice system. The County’s inaction comes with a high price. Taxpayers are paying for unnecessary jail operating expenses and, if the County CEO has his way, will spend more than $1 billion on building and renovating jail facilities. Absent split sentencing, low-level felons are more likely to reoffend, compromising public safety and placing more individuals behind bars.
The ACLU of Southern California, Advancement Project, Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, Community Coalition, Drug Policy Alliance, Integrated Recovery Network, Justice Not Jails, and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership are paving the way for real alternatives to incarceration in the County jails. As the L.A. Times editorial demonstrates, change is long overdue.
You can join the call for smarter sentencing solutions by contacting your L.A. County Board of Supervisors member today. Encourage your Supervisor to work with law enforcement agencies and departments to take advantage of split sentencing, and improve public safety in our communities.
Esther Lim is ACLU/SC Jails Project Director and Clarissa Woo Hermosillo is ACLU/SC Direct of Policy Advocacy