Mercury News — California's massive overhaul of its penal system has done more than just transfer responsibility for low-level criminal offenders to counties -- it's also spurred a shift away from locking up people in prison or jail, according to a new Stanford study.
As the state's prison population shrank under a federal court order to reduce overcrowding, local jails did not absorb the reduction, the study found. Between 2010 and 2012, the state's prison population fell by nearly 30,000 while the number of jail inmates increased only by about 8,200 people.
As a result, the incarceration rate per 100,000 adult Californians dropped by almost 12 percent. But the study predicts the pendulum will start swinging back toward locking people up again, primarily as the many counties with limited jail capacity expand or build new lockups funded by state bonds.
By 2017, the study found, the net decrease in California's incarceration rate since 2010 will be only 5 percent.
The new, more lenient rules that came with realigning the criminal justice system alone won't be enough to sustain the lower incarceration rate. They include enhanced jail credits that allow offenders to potentially serve only half their sentence and shorter maximum jail terms for offenders who violate conditions of their supervision.
"The very provisions of realignment have accelerated decarceration in California in the immediate term," said study co-author Deborah Mukamal. "Over time, though, those effects will lessen ... unless the state engages in significant reform of its sentencing laws and invests much more substantially in alternatives to incarceration." continue reading...