Up until October 2011, those convicted of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual crimes cycled in and out of the state prison system, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. To solve this problem, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109 as part of public safety realignment. This act is intended to move low-level offenders to the local county level jails and probation, and out of the overcrowded state prisons. In theory, this was a great idea.
However, every great idea requires proper funding and execution, something that I believe AB 109 is lacking. The overcrowding of our state prison system is so bad, it can qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. Something must be done to remedy this situation. But is funneling offenders from one system to another going to solve the problem? That fact, unfortunately, remains to be seen.
As I stated earlier, the idea is a good one. Overcrowding state prisons is not beneficial for any party involved, including the taxpayers. That said, if we are to redistribute the inmate population, there must be proper funding, and proper training on all sides. The main idea of AB 109 is to move the non-serious offenders to either local county jails, or move them from parole to probation and have local officials supervise those released. Local departments need to hire more probation officers to help with the impending caseloads. This is not only beneficial for the department, but it gives those recently released a chance for successful integration back into the community, which is something they all deserve.
I was given the chance to interview a caseworker at Metro United Methodist Urban Ministry, who is one of the leaders in prison to workforce programs in San Diego. Under AB 109, “flash incarcerations” are allowed. This is a short time that violators of probation can be thrown back in jail for up to 10 days. This punishment jeopardizes those in the community programs. He told me a story of a young man who had just landed a job and was due to begin on a Monday, but was then flash-incarcerated on the Friday before because of a Facebook picture probation officer found. This minor infraction, that could have gone without punishment, cost this young man his opportunity at a good job placement.
It is beyond a doubt that our corrections system is in need of a new facelift. The safety of our generation and those to come counts on it. But in order for something to work, it must be done efficiently, with proper funding at proper training and execution at all levels. AB 109, I commend you for your effort, but please, give everyone the chance that they deserve and put more funding in the community. United and properly trained, we can all help resolve the issues of our prison system.
Natalie Diaz is a candidate for a master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California.