California’s restructured criminal justice system assessed

A year after the overhaul of California’s criminal justice system, many people are assessing its effectiveness. Reports are finding that offenders who qualify for rehab services under the realignment policy are still being sentenced to prison time, something state officials were hoping to avoid. For example, during the first six months of realignment, judges sentenced about 72 percent of California’s 15,000 low-level offenders to jail time instead of local probation programs where treatment services are offered.

Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California, is encouraging judges to sentence more low-level offenders to probation so that they can get treatment and follow-up supervision. This way, the realignment policy can more effectively rehabilitate criminals. Fresno Superior Court Judge Jon Conklin says he believes judges will start seeing the benefits of probation programs, and expects to see the percentage of offenders going into probation to increase.

Many probation programs in California, including the Probation Department in Fresno County, are implementing more services, including drug rehabilitation, vocational assistance and daily check-in centers, to help offenders break the cycle of recidivism and successfully transition back into the community. According to a Sacramento Bee news article, Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner is confident that the development of probation programs and other alternatives will help the realignment policy continue to strengthen. Fresno County selected BI to implement a day reporting center to help manage AB 109 probationers.

The realignment policy shifts responsibility for most nonviolent felons from the state to the counties, and favors treatment services over prison sentences for low-level offenders. Governor Jerry Brown saw the realignment policy as a way to relieve the state’s overcrowded prison system; since its implementation, California’s prison population has shrunk by more than 15 percent.

For more information, visit the Sacramento Bee.