California’s Goal to Reduce Prison Populations Hinges on Counties’ Plans

By Raj Jayadev

Santa Clara County Main Jail

Through a recent piece of legislation called AB109 that mandates a reduction in the prison inmate population, California counties are being given a rare, historic opportunity to re-imagine its public safety framework in a way that can dramatically strengthen our communities, unite our families, and rebuild the economy of our resource depleted state.

Or, we can just fill up our local jails with people who would have filled up our state prisons.

What path we take in the state’s fork in the road moment will be based on how counties envision, strategize, and act over the next two months, as counties need to submit their plan for what is being called “realignment” on October 1st, 2011. And as much as I hate to use a Silicon Valley catch phrase – Santa Clara County, as well as every California county, can shift the paradigm of our criminal justice system if we allow our more rationale thinking to prevail over the impulse to do more of the same in terms of incarceration. Continue reading

Mercury News: Sentencing reform should be a conservative priority

In an editorial written for the Mercury News, Pat Nolan, a former Republican Leader of the California Assembly member, makes the case for why prison reduction makes sense across the political spectrum….

Prison in Tracy, California

At long last, California will have to deal with our bulging prisons, where 140,000 inmates are crammed into facilities designed to hold 80,000. The Supreme Court found conditions that are profoundly troubling, and these prison conditions could turn a short sentence for a nonviolent offense into a death sentence because of inadequate medical care.

Certainly our prisons hold many folks who are very dangerous and need to be locked away from society, even for the rest of their lives. However, we also send many low-risk offenders to prison. As a conservative Republican, that makes no sense to me, as it is very costly and can sometimes turn low-level offenders into hardened criminals. Continue reading

Wall Street Journal: Santa Clara County Prepares for Influx of Inmates Into Jails

The not so good news: WSJ reports that Santa Clara County sends more people to prison than any other Bay Area County. The good news: Our County is going through a process to relieve ourselves of that distinction, and other counties from across the state are watching to see how transformative we can be in our local criminal justice strategies, particularly over the next couple months…

Santa Clara County officials hope county-run services such as this San Jose support group aimed primarily at women on probation will reduce the likelihood that participants will wind up incarcerated.

Bobby White, August 4, 2011

Santa Clara County is hastily drawing up plans to accommodate about 3,000 new inmates and parolees slated to move to county supervision from the state’s control this fall under a major shake-up of the California prison system.

Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed into law a bill that calls for jailing offenders who commit low-level crimes in county lockups instead of state prisons. The law, which also requires counties, rather than the state, to supervise newly released low-level inmates, was prodded by a Supreme Court ruling in May ordering California to sharply reduce prison overcrowding.

While all California counties face the mandate starting in October, Santa Clara sends more inmates to the state prison system than the Bay Area’s other counties—and thus will see more inmates move to its jurisdiction from the state. The shift means Santa Clara will now play a far larger role in housing and supervising offenders. Continue reading

California Prison Overhaul: Justice Best Administered Local

Our friend David Muhammad, now the Chief Probation Officer for Alameda County, shares his vision on why prison reduction is both possible, and can strengthen public safety in the following editorial written for New America Media.

OAKLAND, Calif.–California is on the brink of a massive overhaul of its criminal justice system. The changes could become a model for the United States–or could be a disaster.California is in a budget crisis, and spending on corrections not only drains billions of dollars every year from the state, but yields horrible outcomes. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the state to end the unconstitutional practice of overcrowding its prisons.

At the same time the state is facing extreme challenges, though, it is being given enormous opportunities.There are more than 140,000 inmates in a prison system designed to hold 80,000. And California has sent another 10,000 or more inmates to be held at facilities in other states.

Continue reading…