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Jail Realignment Study: More Changes Still Needed

Publication Date: 
November 05, 2013
Orange County Register
Sean Emery

Professor Joan Petersilia spoke with the Orange County Register's Sean Emery about a new study out of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center focusing on California Realignment and how the state's counties have adapted to it. 

Orange County law-enforcement agencies are weighing the results of a study that recommended significant changes in a law that transferred responsibility for many felons to the county level.

Jail sentences could be capped and repeat offenders might see more serious lockup if state legislators follow recommendations of one of the first wide-ranging looks at the state's 2-year-old inmate realignment.

The study by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center marks a major analysis of the statewide effects of "realignment," one of the largest changes in the history of the California justice system.

"For a nation seeking new correctional approaches after the costly and arguably unproductive era of mass incarceration, California represents a high-stakes test kitchen," Stanford Law School professor Joan Petersilia wrote in the introduction to the realignment report.


"Realignment has completely transformed California's criminal justice system in a very short time, and while opinions about its effectiveness and potential vary dramatically, everyone agrees it is here to stay," the report said.

As a result of realignment, the study found, virtually all drug and property crime sentences are being handled at the county level.

"Our interviews elicited a portrait of counties struggling, often heroically, to carry out an initiative that was poorly planned and imposed upon them almost overnight, giving them little time to prepare. The first year was like drinking from a firehose as counties scrambled to cope with an influx of offenders far larger than expected and with more serious criminal histories and needs," Petersilia wrote in the report. "That said, everyone agreed realignment is here to stay and that the old system was yielding disappointing results and siphoning too many taxpayer dollars from other vital public programs."


The Stanford study said county probation departments statewide, which researchers referred to as "the workhorse of the criminal justice system," had the most uniform response to realignment, saying it gave them "an opportunity to fully test whether well- tailored rehabilitation services can keep lower-level felony offenders from committing new crimes and returning to prison."