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Is Prison Realignment Working In San Diego?

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli from the ACLU and Chief Mack Jenkins, head of the San Diego County Probation Department, speak to "Evening Edition" about the realignment program.

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California at a Crossroads

California at a Crossroads

Public Safety Realignment - California at a Crossroads

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It’s been six months since California started shifting low-level prison inmates and funding from state to county jails, and a new report from the ACLU looks at how the program is going so far.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, a senior policy advocate for the ACLU, spoke to KPBS about the report.

She said San Diego County compares “fairly favorably” to other counties. It has one of the lower non-sentenced jail populations, but is third highest in pre-alignment felony probation workload, according to the report.

The county was given $25.1 million for its realignment program and plans to spent 20 percent of it on probation, 12 percent on health, treatment and services and 11 percent on the sheriff’s department.

The county will also spend $200,000—1 percent of its total funding—to expand the East Mesa Detention Facility.

All counties should spend money in ways to prevent future crime, not on expanding jails, Dooley-Sammuli said. That leads to problems the state prison system already faces.

“So we’re pouring money down the drain, not protecting public safety,” she said. “What realignment allows is for counties to do a better job than the state has done, to focus not just on locking everybody up, but to focus on preserving jails for people who pose a risk to public safety, and focusing for others on what it’s going to take, monitoring in the community, to make sure that they do not commit future crimes so we limit future victims.”

Dooley-Sammuli said counties should not attempt to address realignment by “just locking people up because they can no longer ship them off to state prison.” That, she said, will turn county prisons into revolving doors.

The head of the San Diego County Probation Department, Chief Mack Jenkins, also spoke to KPBS. He said his department now has 1,400 new offenders to supervise.

One of the biggest challenges in the new realignment program, he said, is for the county to supervise post release offenders coming from state prisons.

“We know that all of them who are now coming back to us under post release supervision came from San Diego County,” he said. “Many of them failed on probation, many were sentenced directly from the court. So in that sense we had anticipated that they would be similar to the population that we currently supervise, with high risk probationers. But what my staff has reported to me, in fact I just came from a meeting where we were talking about it, some of the folks coming back have displayed a higher level of criminal sophistication that’s commensurate with the length of time that they spend in prison.”

Both Jenkins and Dooley-Sammuli said San Diego County is focusing on “evidence-based practices” to reduce crime.

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