California Pretrial Reform: The Next Step in Realignment

The 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act (Realignment) is “the most significant criminal justice legislation passed in three decades in California.”2 With the goal of dramatically reducing California’s state-prison population, Assembly Bill 109 provided counties with funding and responsibility over local jail populations and ensured that low-level offenders would not be transferred from county jail to state prisons.3 When signing AB 109, Governor Jerry Brown addressed the crisis in the state’s criminal justice system: “For too long, the state’s prison system has been a revolving door for lower-level offenders… Cycling these offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation, and impedes local law enforcement supervision.”4 By shifting the responsibility for non-serious, non-violent, and nonsex offenders from the state prisons to counties, the legislation created an opportunity for local governments to implement local solutions to address the crisis of overcrowding and recidivism. To accommodate the influx of inmates from state prisons to county jails many counties are considering building new jails.5 Other counties are seeking to reduce jail populations and maintain public safety by expanding alternatives to incarceration such as probation, pretrial, and mental health services.6 The most promising approach to lowering jail populations and protecting public safety is to reform pretrial decision-making statewide through comprehensive legislation. Reforming California’s pretrial justice system is the next step in Realignment.

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