There has been quite a bit of speculation and questions raised regarding the effect of California's inmate-reducing "public safety realignment" program initiated this year by California Governor Jerry Brown.
In essence, California prisons are hopelessly overcrowded and inmate populations exceeding prison housing limits. In some prisons, inmates are crammed into cells designed for fewer inmates and in others, gymnasiums have closed and have been turned into housing units. The Supreme Court has ordered that California address this crisis, and therefore state laws AB 109 and AB 117 were recently enacted.
The effect is that non-violent criminal offenders in state prisons would be transferred to local county jails to alleviate the overcrowding problem. The problem for county jails, however, is that they are also extremely overcrowded. Prosecutors such as L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley have expressed concerns about the realignment, stating that crime rates will increase substantially as prisoners are released into society.
CBS Los Angeles has reported that prior to its implementation, LA County officials "predict doom" and increased crime in the LA area. Well, to date the crime rate arguably has remained unchanged.
An interesting result of this bill, however, has been the benefit to those arrested in LA and other Southern California counties for DUI, some Theft Crimes, Driving on a Suspended License and other non-violent misdemeanor crimes.
As a Southern California Criminal Defense Attorney, I have seen my clients serve a very small fraction of the jail time imposed on them by the court. In one case, an individual was sentenced to the maximum 365 days for a misdemeanor: he was released after about 12 days. Another individual was sentenced to serve 220 days in custody: he was released after 5 days and was able to perform public work for an additional 15 days to completely satisfy the custody order. With individuals with very short custody orders, it is not uncommon for them to be booked and released. It has become so predictable that I have arranged for my custody bound clients to convert their fines to custody. By employing this strategy, My clients have still been released either immediately or after a very short period of time but with no fines to pay when release.
Of course there are no guarantees as to whether or not individuals will be released early, since it is entirely the decision of the Sheriff having control over the jail facility. It is a reality, however, that due to the inmate realignment program, all jail and prison facilities remain overcrowded. For non-violent offenders, this appears to be a positive in terms of the amount of jail time that will be ultimately served.