CA Inmate Realignment

201512.30

Barbed wire fenceA decision by the Supreme Court in 2011 has had a dramatic impact on the jail and prison system in California. Although posting bail helps free up more space in prisons and jails, it was ruled that the current prison system was overcrowded and far beyond capacity. It was determined that the overcrowding was violating the rights of the inmates because it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. This is against the eighth amendment. The state was faced with a tough decision after the Supreme Court ruling.

One of the first ideas was to just let certain people in prison go. Even the thought of releasing potentially violent criminals back onto the streets was met with resistance by many people. Another option was eventually discussed. California would have to realign inmates in order to make more space for people who were not capable of being released back into society.

The Realignment Plan

The realignment involved taking the lowest risk prisoners and shifting those individuals from prisons to the jails in each county. The hope is that realignment will reduce the prison population over time to a level that is acceptable. The only problem is that jails and prisons are constructed for two very different purposes that are not always compatible.

Prison vs. Jail

A prison in California is a facility designed to hold convicted criminals for long periods of time. Some inmates serve out life sentences in prison while others are in for just a few years. The prison can handle that type of extended incarceration. Alternately, county jails are designed for short-term imprisonment. A person held in a jail generally stays for 12 months or less.

California was now asking the jails to start permanently housing inmates that might have to stay at the county facility for the next several decades. The county jails were not prepared for this sudden change. The reality is that there was almost no other choice for the state.

County jails to date have been fighting to make changes to the facilities in order to accommodate the new long-term inmates. Several jails have started expansion plans to increase the size of the facility to house the new prisoners away from local offenders. These expansion plans have been met with problems across the state. Some local commissions are denying approval for expansion. Certain jails cannot raise the funds for the project. Others simply need much more time to plan and construction extensions.

Something that does help the county jails in this case is a defendant who knows how to post bail after being arrested. Bail is an amount the defendant can pay to get out of jail until your trial is over. Most bail amounts are too high to pay. This is where a bail bond agency can help. The agency accepts a small portion of the bail upfront from the defendant and guarantees the rest with the courts though a special arrangement. The defendant is then allowed to leave the jail.

Posting bail helps because it frees up more space in the county jail. This allows law enforcement to worry less about possible problems and having to shift long-term prisoners into inappropriate cells. The inmate realignment problem does not seem to have a simple solution although California county jails are working hard to do something about it.