Nearly 15 months after starting the "boldest move in criminal justice in decades," California Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades. Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation. "The prison emergency is over in California," Brown said last year, reported the Los Angeles Times.
The prison population fell sharply at first, dropping from 162,400 to 133,000, but it is rising again. There now are 135,400 inmates in state custody, a number expected to grow to 147,000 in 2019.
The state Finance Department originally projected that realignment would reduce prison spending by $1.4 billion this fiscal year and that about two-thirds of that savings would be passed on to counties to cover the costs of their new charges.
Instead, the state's increased costs for private prison space and the compensation it pays out for county jails, prosecutors and probation departments adds up to about $2 billion a year more for corrections than when Brown regained office.
Without stemming the flow of prisoners into the system, the problems created by crowding continue. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state agency that investigates government operations, said in a May report that realignment simply "changed the place where the sentence is served."Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more. Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. "It is not going to create miracles overnight," he said this spring. The governor's office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state. Putting prisoners back in local hands "is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives," he said.
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