Brown Urges Counties To Find Realignment Solutions

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Governor Jerry Brown urged a conference of sheriffs, probation departments and county administrators to keep working to find practices that will make California’s 3-year-old realignment plan workable.

In its third year, realignment shifted the responsibility for housing and supervising certain criminals from the state corrections department to county governments. Initially, the shift drew criticism from local sheriffs who said their jails would become over-crowded and that they would have to release inmates early.

In addition, the shift from supervising ex-cons went from state parole to county probation departments. In Sacramento County that added nearly 2,000 probationers to the department’s work load.

Through trial and error, counties have come up with programs to supervise and rehabilitate released inmates to keep them out of the prison and jail systems.

“It’s not perfect and I think there’s a lot we can learn from you and each of your experiences,” Brown said.

The crime rates in counties went up initially, but have since gone down.

“We’re pleased to see the crime rate go down. We’ve seen the violent crime rate, property crime rates go down yet again this year so we’re pleased with our progress,” said Lee Seale, Chief Probation officer for Sacramento County.

Brown told conference attendees that the concept of what is acceptable punishment has shifted over the years and that in 1990’d popular view was to increase sentences for criminals. That lead to over-crowded prisons to the point that federal courts ordered a reduction in the state inmate population.

“People will do bad things and the only question is do we make it worse by compounding the problem,” said Brown.

He also sympathized with the tough decision local agencies must make on which prisoners to keep in jail and which to release on probation and into rehab programs.

“People do not want to get hit over the head, they don’t want their cars stolen and they don’t want their houses broken into so we have to do something, but we ought to do it smart,” said Brown.

Matthew Cate is the Executive Director of the California State of Counties who once headed the State Corrections and Rehabilitation Department in the Schwarzenegger administration.

He said criminal justice science has helped counties cope.

“We know a little bit more about risk, we know a little bit more about treatment so we’re making smarter decisions about who should be in and who can be trusted in the community,” said Cate.

Brown told the group that he had their back in doing a thankless job for which they will be blamed for making wrong judgements. His recently released budget proposal allocates $125 million for county probation departments for supervising released inmates and providing job training, drug treatment and counseling.

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