State prison realignment less of a burden on local counties

California’s dramatic prison realignment plan enacted this month appears to be less of a burden for the counties around Berkeley than in other parts of the state.

An attempt to reduce prison overpopulation and rates of repeat offense, Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan — which went into effect Oct.1 under Assembly Bill 109 — pushes responsibility for certain offenders and parolees from the state to county institutions.

Under AB 109, nonviolent, nonsexual and nonserious offenders will serve their sentences in county jails rather than in state prisons.

Alameda County can eventually expect a 267-inmate increase to its average population because of the change in policy, according to statistics from the state Department of Finance.

The bill came about after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May determined that California’s current prison overpopulation had led to a violation of the inmates’ Constitutional rights and therefore mandated that California decrease its prison population to 137.5 percent of what the facilities were designed to hold within two years.

The realignment has raised contention from officials at various county organizations who worry that their institutions will not have the space nor receive the funding necessary to adequately take on the additional inmates and parolees the bill will funnel into county facilities.

The legislation does not entail the transfer or release of any current inmates from state institutions to the county ones. Also, in addition to the “three nons,” the bill lists 59 crimes — previously voted upon to receive longer and tougher sentences — that will not be transferred over to county facilities.

Agencies across the state have raised concern over potential public safety issues that might arise with the localization of incarceration.

Barry Krisberg, director of research and policy and lecturer in residence at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the UC Berkeley School of Law — who testified at the U.S. Supreme Court trial — said these fears lack evidence.

“The notion that harsher, longer penalties reduce crime has been discredited over and over again,” he said.

The increase will not be as much a challenge for Alameda County as for other counties in the state. According to Alameda County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. J.D. Nelson, the 1989 construction of the Santa Rita Jail allowed for extra space, leaving them with “wiggle room.”

Marin and Contra Costa counties will see increases of 66 and 104 to their average prison population, according to the state’s Department of Finance.

Contra Costa County Undersheriff Mike Casten also said space would not be an issue for his county, but said the roughly $4.5 million realignment budget the state has outlined for the county will not be enough to orchestrate more than a “bare-bones” attempt at decreasing rates of repeat offenses.

According to Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle, the approximately $3.4 million in funding allocated to his county is adequate, and because of Marin County’s historically low levels of incarceration, space should not be a problem for their facilities either.

Under the bill, counties will also have responsibility for parole supervision of prison inmates freed on or after Oct. 1 for nonserious and nonviolent crimes and for some sex offenders. Though the state Board of Parole will remain responsible for those already on parole, those who break the terms of their parole and who have not been paroled from life terms will serve their sentences at county facilities if their crimes fall under the bill’s provisions.

Sarah Burns is the lead crime reporter.