The highly criticized realignment plan for California's overcrowded state prisons, set in motion by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, may be helping to keep low-level criminals from becoming repeat offenders.
In addition to reducing the population of state prisons in California, by either shifting prisoners to county lock-ups or granting early release to some offenders, the realignment program aims to increase supervision and support for low-level offenders upon release—support that is being provided by county officials, rather than state parole officers.
Thousands of low-level felons have been released into the supervision of the county under the realignment law. Only those convicted of non-serious, non-sexual, and non-violent crimes have been placed into the supervision program, and county officials are realizing apparent success with the new focus on rehabilitation.
Yen Ly, a 29-year-old single mother with a meth addiction who was jailed for credit card fraud, has flourished under the program, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Five months after release, Ly has consistently tested clean for drugs, enrolled full time in beauty school, and performs voluntary community service.
Ly serves on the leadership committee for a special Santa Ana center that allows low-level ex-convicts to receive job training, take classes on general education and parenting skills, and receive drug and alcohol counseling, reports the Chronicle.
Other counties are also initiating new programs to help released convicts avoid repeat offenses. A special unit called a “re-entry pod” that provides social services and drug treatment for soon-to-be-released inmates is in place for San Francisco County, to help ease the transition back into the general population. Three counties in Northern California created a network of providers through pooled resources that assigns caseworkers to newly released inmates, providing social support and job-finding assistance.
It's too soon to know whether the efforts by the counties will lower the re-offense rate, but early signs are promising for a state where recidivism—convicts who are put back in prison for second or higher offenses—is historically high. Prior to the 2011 realignment laws, California had the highest recidivism rate in the country at around 70 percent.