It's called AB 109, the two-year-old California law designed to reduce prison overcrowding, cut the costs of incarceration and pump-up inmate rehabilitation. As far as reducing overcrowding, the law has been successful. The state's prison population has been reduced by 40%. But some law enforcement officers believe the law is flawed and it has lead to more problems than it has solved. Some of those ex-cons that are then released to the street, according to some concerned senior officers, are now committing more crimes, sending them back to jail at an alarming rate.
Under AB 109, 500 state crimes have been re-classified as non-prison cases and non-violent, low-level felons are being released to county jails or rehab programs instead of remaining in prison. There is no parole for these inmates; when they are released they are released to the supervision of county probation officers. Following up on the more than 8,200 probationers released thus far is a daunting task. 12 South Bay communities now have formed a task force to help county probation officers keep tabs on the released prisoners. According to L. A. County probation officials, the whereabouts of nearly 2,000 high-risk probationers with warrants for their arrests – close to 20% -- are unknown.
It's clear the reviews are mixed, even from people who make a living studying corrections issues in California. Dr. Joan Petersilla, in a recently-released study "Realignment in Review", calls California a "high-stakes test kitchen" She says "broadly speaking… our interviews elicited a portrait of counties struggling, often heroically, to carry out an initiative that was poorly planned and imposed upon them almost overnight, giving them little time to prepare." Still she says, there are some at the county level who believe there could be a long-term impact if the rehabilitation programs are given time to work.
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