Inmates trade prison cells for jail under plan


Under AB 109, which took effect on Saturday, non-violent criminals would remain in county jails instead of being transferred to state prison as a way for the state to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering California to reduce its prison population.

Early in the week, Gov. Jerry Brown said county leaders were ready for the realignment.

"It's bold, it's difficult and it will continuously change as we learn from experience," Brown said. "But we can't sit still and let the courts release 30,000 serious prisoners. We have to do something, and this is the most-viable plan that I've been able to put together."

Some counties, including Alameda County, are confident that they're ready for realignment. Sgt. J.D. Nelson with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department says he hopes that funding for the services don't become an issue.

"We do have some money that we got up front," Nelson said, "But it's the ongoing cost that has yet to be determined."

The funding for realignment is guaranteed in this year's state budget, but Brown and local law enforcement officials say they must get a constitutional amendment approved that guarantees the funding for the future, and which cannot be touched by the legislature.

Realignment is more about housing prisoners: It's also about providing services like health care, treatment programs and rehabilitation.

"This is probably the most dramatic change to criminal justice in California," said Contra Costa County probation officer Phillip Kader, who added that realignment does not change the court options for sentencing, nor does it change the amount of time a person may be placed in custody.

The realignment does, however, change who supervises criminal offenders.

"This isn't a new population," said Kader. "These are folks that were coming out of prison anyway. What is different is the county is the responsible agency."

Brown says 110,000 people enter and leave state prisons on a yearly basis, contributing to an erroneous judicial system.

"It's a completely broken system that was mindlessly expanded without understanding the consequences we are now dealing with," Brown said.

Most Bay Area counties plan to invest heavily in alternative treatment programs. According to the adult probation department, the average age of a transferred parolee is 39 and the crimes are non-violent, non-sexual offenses.

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