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By Lynn Graebner
What if the first thing on the to-do list for people coming out of prison was to repair the relationships with loved ones who were most hurt by the crime and it’s consequences? A tool called reintegration circles is helping ex-offenders to do just that.
The effects of prison realignment will remain unclear until after – perhaps months after –prison reform starts next week. Two district attorneys from very different California counties consider how AB 109 might affect them, and expert David Ball worries that no one really understands the implications of the complicated law.
Half of women in California prisons are there for non-violent crimes – the kind of offenses that will be managed on the county level after prison realignment starts Oct. 1. Women’s needs are different from men’s and so are the reasons behind their brushes with the law. San Francisco County is already developing help tailored to women who commit crimes. Should other counties follow their lead?
Prison reform tossed responsibility for low-level offenders to the county. Kern County says it will do a better job than the state in dealing with people who have broken the law – because it has no choice. But like other counties, they would have liked more money and ideas for managing people convicted of crimes.
Shelter has always been a problem for people leaving prisons – felons typically aren’t welcome in public housing. That might change soon in Los Angeles County, which is bracing for an influx of low-level offenders they are newly responsible for managing, as are counties throughout the state. So how are other jurisdictions responding to their housing crisis?
Merced County sees the October realignment of state prisoners into county supervision as a chance to try something different in their approach to crime prevention.
“Evidence-based practices show the more you do with lower-risk offenders the more damage you do,” said Scott Ball, chief probation officer and chair of the committee overseeing AB 109, the legislation mandating a historic shift in managing people convicted of non-violent crimes.
Like other jurisdictions in California, county officials in Merced are looking at AB 109, or prison realignment, as an opportunity to change corrections for the better. AB 109 was signed into law in April by Gov. Jerry Brown as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which called for California to reduce its prison population by 34,000. After Oct. 1, all non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders will be sentenced to county jails rather than state prison. Once current lower-risk inmates finish serving their time in state prison, they will come under the supervision of county probation rather than the state’s parole department.
“All of us are in frantic mode,” said Contra Costa County’s Chief Probation Officer Phil Kader. He spoke as he passed out a tentative budget to the 14 criminal justice and social service professionals who attended a recent budget meeting of the Public Safety Realignment Executive Committee for Contra Costa County.
On October 1, AB 109, called Public Safety Realignment, will shift responsibility for people convicted of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenses to counties. Kader became supervisor of the county’s realignment plans in June, as mandated by the state law.
“I see this as an extraordinary opportunity and an extraordinary challenge,” Kader said.