Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Realignment and Long Jail Terms

An inmate in the Madera County Jail is taken to the inmate
housing unit. Photo courtesy The Press Enterprise.
Realignment was initiated, in part, as a reaction to the ruling in Brown v. Plata and the belief that, whatever the conditions in local jails, surely nothing could be worse than state prisons. But is that true? The Press Enterprise reports that more than 1,100 people are serving terms between 5 and 10 years in county jails, some of which are seriously ill equipped to handle such long sentences.

Authorities originally believed that the maximum jail sentence under realignment would be three years, and anyone with a lengthier sentence would go to prison.

But judges found no legal grounds to send convicted inmates to state prison for most violations detailed under realignment. The number of inmates getting lengthy sentences to county jails has been rising ever since.

County law-enforcement officials are concerned that increasing the number of long-term jail inmates will lead to a new round of prisoner rights-violation lawsuits. Jails originally were meant to hold sentenced inmates for no more than a year. They don’t have the medical, mental health, disability and work-program facilities found at state prisons

Fresno County already has been sued by inmates claiming mental health and medical care in its jails is inadequate. A prison-rights law firm has been reviewing Riverside County’s facilities.

The piece goes on to document some anti-Realignment bills aimed at minimizing its effects by excluding more categories of offenders or setting a sentencing limit. The fact that there is now one person sentenced to 42 (!) years in L.A. County Jail (presumably for a nonserious, nonviolent, nonsexual offense) should be an indication that reform is being done in a horribly wrong fashion.

Props to Josh Page for the link. Come talk to us about realignment at our conference, California Correctional Crisis: Realignment and Reform, on March 21-22.

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