Cover: Public Safety Realignment in Twelve California Counties

Public Safety Realignment in Twelve California Counties

Published Jun 29, 2015

by Susan Turner, Terry Fain, Shirley J. Hunt

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Research Questions

  1. What are counties doing with regard to public safety realignment in California?
  2. Are they doing anything new, as Assembly Bill 109 intended?
  3. Does what they are doing conform to the evidence-based practice literature?

Following long bouts of litigation among inmates, prison guards, and state officials, in May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of a three-judge panel that imposed a cap on California's prison population and ordered the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of "design capacity" within two years. The primary basis for the court ruling was that the overcrowded prison system violated inmates' constitutional right to adequate health care. In response to the 2011 Supreme Court decision, California adopted two measures, Assembly Bill (AB) 109 and AB 117, collectively known as realignment. These measures shift responsibility for certain low-level offenders, parole violators, and parolees, previously the state's responsibility, to California counties. Realignment gives counties a great deal of flexibility in how they treat these offenders and allows them to choose alternatives to custody for realignment offenders. As time has passed since realignment began in October 2011, several studies have evaluated various aspects of the planning and implementation of realignment. The study reported here focused on the flexibility that the state granted counties in implementing realignment. In particular, the authors wanted to determine whether counties essentially continued and expanded what they were already doing in county corrections or whether they used realignment as an opportunity to change from "business as usual."

Key Findings

Counties Encounter Unanticipated Challenges and Find That There Are Many Unknowns About Strategies' Effects

  • Realignment appears to have shifted the responsibility for, but not the total numbers of, offenders in the system (at least those under the primary forms of supervision and incarceration).

Many Things That Are Being Implemented Are Enhancements of Existing Programs or Policies

  • Both probation and sheriff's department representatives mentioned a focus on providing services and expanding evidence-based practices, although clearly sheriff's departments often focused on adding jail capacity. Every county voiced concern about realigned offenders' increased risk levels and need profiles: They required more mental and other health services, and high proportions were rated as high risk on assessment instruments.

There Is Evidence of Movement Toward Colocating Service Provision

  • A movement toward the delivery of services in a one-stop location was evident in both probation and sheriff's departments. Reentry units — specialized areas in the jails — are gaining momentum for inmates near the ends of their sentences in an effort to provide them with the skills, services, and connections to outside agencies.


  • Longer-term follow-up will be able to provide a more comprehensive analysis of system changes.

The research reported here was conducted in the Safety and Justice Program, part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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