California's problems with an overcrowded prison system has been well documented and highly publicized. At the core of this problem was the fact that numerous low-level convicted individuals were serving prison sentences – many of them lengthy – for low priority crimes, especially for nonviolent drug offenses. Two years ago, however, California began enacting a comprehensive prison reform that would transition most low-level offenders into county jails and county systems. The policy change has also focused on rehabilitation of drug offenders, rather than harsh punishment alone.
The policy change, many criminal experts claim, is profound and considered one of the most sweeping correctional experiments in recent history. In an attempt to see how those in the criminal justice system are responding to the changes, researchers from the Stanford Criminal Justice Center surveyed 21 counties throughout the state – including Los Angeles County – and interviewed a number of representatives across the criminal justice system, ranging from offenders to police to judges.
Positive Support for New Policy
Officially known as "Voices from the Field: How California Stakeholders View Public Safety Realignment," the study found that many are optimistic about the impact such a policy change will have. Positive support was expressed for the expansion of local law enforcement's control and for the focus on treatment and rehabilitation of convicted individuals. Widespread support was also expressed by many concerned about the inflation of California's prison spending. Other notable points and statistics discovered by researchers include:
- Since California enacted change in 2011, more than 100,000 convicted felons have been transitioned to county systems to serve sentences or for post-release supervision.
- Concerns about jail conditions have cropped up. Jails are not as well equipped to handle long-term stays. They lack substantial health care and may be unable to respond to other problems that may arise, including post-release supervision systems.
- Many counties are exploring diversion programs to prosecute low-level offenses such as certain theft crimes and drug crimes.
Researchers stated that no one interviewed wanted the policy change repealed – a testament to the fact that California's previous system was failing. Prosecutors, however, were cited as being among the least supportive. Change will continue, as the state has two months to comply with a federal court order requiring a reduction in prison population. Currently, California is still nearly 9,000 inmates over the limit.
It may still be too early to determine how California's policy transition will impact both the criminal justice system and public safety, but thus far, many Californians support the change. At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys have decades of combined experience and have been deeply immersed in the criminal justice system.Our legal team's role – as it has always been – is to zealously defend our clients from the charges they face. Throughout the years, we have been successful in doing so for many clients.
If you or your loved one has been charged with a crime in Los Angeles or any of the surrounding communities and would like to speak with a Los Angeles criminal attorney, call (800) 462-7160 for a free consultation. We have offices located throughout Southern California.