Being “tough on crime” has meant two things in California: severely overcrowded state prisons, and a huge budget deficit (US$16 billion).
With an eye to tackling both issues—and under order by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce overcrowding by 137.5 per cent, a curiously specific figure that adds up to 30,000 prisoners—Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law mandating the “realignment” of the way California puts people behind bars. That is, the state is passing the buck, shifting responsibility for prisoners convicted of “nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex crimes” from the state to counties.
The new system allows for more flexibility—county sheriffs have far more latitude than state prison officials, being able to place criminals under monitored house arrest or send them for mental health treatment rather than to jail. But the move has also downloaded major costs onto cash-strapped local governments.
Still, for Brown, it’s been a success. New statistics show inmate populations have fallen to a 17-year low.