A comprehensive report released today by the ACLU of California and sent to officials in every county across the state urges local jurisdictions to fundamentally shift criminal justice policies toward “smart-on-crime” alternatives to incarceration. The new report, Community Safety, Community Solutions, offers guidelines and tools for county governments scrambling to implement the Governor’s new public safety realignment legislation, AB 109. The bill requires counties to take on new responsibilities for low-level non-violent offenders. Those inmates will no longer be sent to state prison beginning October 1.
This public safety realignment, intended to improve public safety and ease severe prison overcrowding while saving the state money, comes at a time when California is facing unprecedented challenges. State and local governments continue to struggle to close record budget deficits, making deep cuts in core programs including public safety, education and social services. The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the state to take immediate action to address its unconstitutionally overcrowded prison system, so overburdened that it is jeopardizing the health and safety of inmates and staff alike.
The state is counting on AB 109 realignment to reduce the prison population by more than 30,000; most of those sentenced after October 1 for non-serious non-violent, non-sex offense felonies will be subject to local jail custody or alternatives to incarceration rather than being sent to state prison. AB 109 instructs county governments to utilize evidence-based alternatives, such as drug treatment, mental health services, job training and educational programs, all shown to reduce recidivism and cost less than jail time.
“High rates of recidivism mean more new crimes and more new victims,” said Hector Villagra, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “We have to hold individuals accountable for their behavior while addressing the underlying reasons that currently lead so many low-level offenders right back to prison and jail.”
AB 109 requires each county to develop its own implementation plan. The ACLU report proposes a 12-step plan to counties for successful realignment planning and implementation to control costs and maximize the potential benefits of AB 109. The 12 step plan includes urging counties to adopt new programs like pre-arrest diversion and to revamp immigration enforcement policies to reduce costs and lower jail populations.
According to the ACLU, AB 109 realignment is a step in the right direction but will not be enough to solve California’s over-incarceration problem. In addition to its 12 step plan for counties, the ACLU is calling for meaningful state-wide sentencing reform including the reduction of low-level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and for a state sentencing commission to evaluate and reform California sentencing policies.