Assembly Bill 109 and Overcrowded Prisons Seven Years Later

Signed by then-Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. in 2011, AB 109, known as the 2011 Public Safety Realignment, was enacted to make sweeping changes to California’s overcrowded correctional facilities. By reducing costs and keeping non-violent, low-level offenders from returning to state lockup, California hoped that 33 prisons would drop their designed capacities to 137.5% by 2013. At the time of signing, prisons were operating at 179.5% of capacity.

As of August, 2018, many prisons remain at over 150% of designed capacity, with the overall average holding at 131.9%. Even worse, 4,200 guilty persons sentenced to California prisons are being housed in Mississippi and Arizona facilities, creating capacity problems with other state prison systems.

Seven years removed from Gov. Brown Jr.’s signature, California seems no better off today than before recidivism and prison overpopulation were placed in the hands of fed-up voters. This despite the landmark Brown vs. Plata case in which the government confirmed that inmates had their Eighth Amendment rights violated by virtue of overcrowding.

Rising Cost of Inmate Upkeep

Criminal defense attorneys often push hard for in-home confinement, probation, or both, which helps keep first-time and returning low-level offenders out of state confinement. If prosecutors feel jail time is merited, non-violent offenders should theoretically be allowed the option to serve county time. At least that is why AB 111 was written into law.

AB 111 was rolled out concurrently with AB 109, permitting county jails to tap into funding necessary to expand their jail system. If county jails expanded, lower level offenders could still receive CDC time, but be remanded to county for the duration of their executed sentences. By design, fewer petty criminals would be circulated through state prisons, which would lower capacity to respectable figures.

The CDC spends roughly $70,810 to house an inmate for one (1) year. Around $32,000 goes toward guard pay, with the remainder allocated to rehabilitation programs, inmate healthcare, administration, food and activities. In the wake of ICE roundups, California penal facilities are strained even further, although immigrants are suing due to harsh conditions in California, which may effectuate an increase in expenditures.

Under the current governor’s plan, $11 billion will be earmarked for rehabilitation and correction efforts. It is unclear under this new proposal if recidivism, capacity, and reassignment of low-level offenders serving time in high-security facilities are addressed. Counties will have access to these funds to expand programs and start work-release initiatives, although state prisons will consume a good portion for their own upkeep.

Forecasting Prisons of Tomorrow

Politicians and other figureheads of that ilk must find ways to address California’s prison overcrowding, especially if the CDC is expected to house immigrants rounded up by ICE. Some prisons and county facilities house inmates in shack-size rooms with triple bunk beds, creating unwarranted mental strain on inmates, not to mention provoking an unhealthy environment.

The Office of Research shows a 2017 CDC prison population of 131,260 with an estimated 2020 population of 121,224. Because of the projected impact of Proposition 57 and a decrease in court commitments, CDCR expects the prison population to reduce for the duration of the projections cycle released annually.

One area in which prisons are improving is their parole system. From August of 2017 to March of this year, roughly 12,000 inmates earned credit time toward their release, and California’s Parole Board is hearing nonviolent cases more frequently. This may help lessen the overcrowding issue, yet many believe an overhaul of the California criminal code could also relegate low-level offenders to more effective substance abuse and psychological programs.

The myriad of criminal procedure differences in California offer little clarity to someone facing serious jail time. Contact criminal defense attorney James E. Blatt, an expert in all facets of criminal law with only one goal: getting cases dismissed by mounting a comprehensive defense of alleged crimes.


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