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UPDATE: Data hard to come by when tracking prison realignment's effects

California Governor Jerry Brown said there's simply no political will to further reduce California's prison population.
California Governor Jerry Brown said there's simply no political will to further reduce California's prison population.
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Update May 4, 11:35 a.m.: California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg tells KPCC's Shirley Jahad his thoughts on Governor Jerry Brown's latest prison realignment proposal:

Late Thursday night, Governor Jerry Brown submitted a reluctant plan to further reduce the number of inmates in California's prisons by about 9,000. The filing came after federal judges threatened the governor with contempt of court if he failed to show how the state plans to comply with federal orders to reduce overcrowding in its prison system. 

In his filing, Brown made it clear that he thinks the state has done enough to improve conditions in its prisons. But federal judges have repeatedly disagreed, meaning several of the options outlined in Thursday's filing could come to bear should appeals fail.

The options include more good-time credit for well-behaved inmates, meaning some could get out of prison earlier than expected.

Realignment, as the governor pointed out in his filing, is already politically controversial. Many in law enforcement attribute a recent rise in crime in some areas to AB109, the 2011 legislation that shifted responsibility for thousands of offenders to the local level. 

Realignment might mean more crime, but no one's done the numbers

Riverside Chief of Police Sergio Diaz said his city has seen a 20 percent uptick in property crime  and 16 percent uptick in violent crime in the first three months of 2013 compared to the same period last year. 

"City councils and community groups are asking, 'Is this early release or not?'" Diaz said.

To be clear, he said, state prisons haven't released inmates early. But with more felons now serving time in county lockups, jails in Riverside County—already overcrowded, said Diaz—sometimes release inmates weeks before their sentences are up. 

Diaz said anecdotal evidence tells him crime is up because of realignment. But finding the data to prove it is another matter—no one's tracking and evaluating the program's effects in a comprehensive way.

Diaz said just this year, his own department has started looking up the court records for arrestees—an effort aimed at finding how many people who're arrested are affiliated in some way with realignment.

But "it's not like in the  movies," Diaz said. Assembling someone's criminal history is often slow and cumbersome. 

"What may be more important is the indirect effect of AB109," said Diaz—noting that law enforcement officers don't have the threat of more time behind bars for someone caught violating parole or probation; there simply isn't the space to house them.

Realignment study launches next year

Bob Takeshita, deputy director of California’s Community Corrections Board, says it’s too soon to tell if realignment has had a negative effect on public safety.

“It’s just too difficult to make any judgements," he said. "And then, it varies.”

While crime rates have climbed in some California counties, they’ve declined elsewhere. And at the moment, there’s no statewide analysis of those changing crime patterns.

But there is some movement to start tracking realignment's effects statewide. Next year, Takeshita’s office will begin a three-year study of the policy’s impact on 10 different counties.