Ella Baker Center: State Realignment Plan Long Overdue but Misses Target
Without Sentencing Reform, California Will Still Pay Too High A Price for Lock-Ups
(Oakland, CA) Beginning October 1st, 2011, California counties will no longer send lower-level offenders to state prison. Additionally, supervision of most people returning from state prison will be handled by county officials instead of state parole agents.
Advocates at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights criticized the plan, which shifts the state’s prison overcrowding and overspending problems to counties, for failing to include sentencing reform to fix the runaway cost of mass incarceration of low level offenders.
“The concept of not sending low-level offenders to state prison is good. But it also begs the question– if these are low-level offenses, why are they still charged as felonies?” said Kris Lev Twombly of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, “Reducing the penalty for the least significant crimes, like simple possession of drugs, from a felony to a misdemeanor would give counties greater flexibility in using more productive alternatives to incarceration.”
The realignment plan gives counties the flexibility to invest in programs that promote public safety– such as drug treatment, mental health services, counseling, and community supervision, which are much cheaper to deliver than locking people up. Crime prevention experts and advocates at Ella Baker Center urge county governments to adopt alternatives to incarceration to finally break the cycle of recidivism fueled by state imprisonment and parole for the last 30 years. Simply locking people up in local jails instead of state prisons will not generate the better public safety outcomes or fiscal savings that California badly needs.
Ella Baker Center is working with other statewide advocacy groups to develop penalty and sentencing reform proposals that will help counties better manage public safety, reduce recidivism and preserve resources for crime prevention and community investment. We are working to make sure realignment is the beginning of a more sensible approach to public safety in California, not an end.