After California courts ordered state prisons and jails to ease up on overcrowding, last year, thousands of lower-level offenders were released early. This program is called “realignment,” and because of it, many who would have gone to state prison for low-level crimes are now being supervised under house arrest. Their crimes range from drug sales to deadly hit-and-run accidents. So what is the public’s take on early jail release in California?
As lawmakers begin to experiment with new alternatives to jail time, many continue to fear that defendants are being released too early. Now we are starting to feel the effects of this decision in several parts of the state. They say it is justice by geography and the length of one’s sentence now seems to be determined by the location in which one was arrested.
California’s 58 counties manage this inmate shift differently. The results have been both good and bad. For example, in Kern County, a man convicted of several DUI’s was released after serving a few months of his six-year sentence, which hardly seems fair for such a repeat offender.
Kern has also witnessed an increase in burglaries. In Merced County, a woman who accidentally killed a local firefighter with her car was sent home under house arrest after serving less than a day of her sentence. In San Joaquin County, a man who had been released early from jail tried to kill his girlfriend.
On the plus side, Counties like San Francisco have created successful alternatives to incarceration, like electronic monitoring and counseling, which have proven to be more effective than locking the offender up. Each county receives state funds to cover the costs but the financial burden is much less than if these defendants were to be kept behind bars.
We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out for California, business, bail and for those arrested in the future.