TUSTIN — Part of California's transformative prison realignment law was intended to give prosecutors and judges sentencing flexibility: Some convicts could receive a combination of custody and supervision, an approach favored by the state, while others could escape probation in exchange for serving longer sentences.
Figures reviewed by The Associated Press show many counties are doing what Gov. Jerry Brown had hoped they would not do by sentencing the overwhelming majority of convicts to the longer jail terms, or so-called straight time. Because of jail overcrowding, some are getting out well before they should and then receive essentially a free pass because they cannot be supervised under the terms of their sentence.
Local law enforcement agencies and probation officers worry that they have no way to track these felons as they re-enter the community, frequently after serving very little time in county jail.
"There's no follow-up, no treatment services, no nothing," said Michelle Scray, the chief probation officer in San Bernardino County. "It's a community protection issue, and it's got to be addressed."
The Democratic governor and state corrections officials hoped that county prosecutors and judges would opt more frequently for the jail-and-supervision combination, or split time, offered under the two-year-old realignment law. They saw the shorter sentences as a way to reduce inmate populations in county jails and the immediate follow-up as a way to better integrate felons back into their communities.
Yet just 31 percent of county convicts have received those split sentences, while more than two-thirds have received sentences that do not include any supervision upon release, according to the most recent data compiled by the Chief Probation Officers Association of California. The numbers cover October 2011, when the law went into effect, through September 2012 and are the latest available.
The numbers vary from county to county, with some counties in Northern California sentencing the majority of realigned inmates to a split sentence. But a number of heavily populated Southern California counties are shying away from that option, helping skew the statewide numbers.
In Los Angeles County, which has far more inmates than any other county, just 5 percent of inmates sentenced under the realignment law are being supervised after their release.
As of now, it's virtually impossible to track county-to-county which inmates are getting out before serving their full time and without post-release monitoring, but officials are working on a system to do that.
The 2011 realignment law shifted responsibility for thousands of prison inmates convicted of non-sexual, non-violent and non-serious offenses to counties rather than the state. It was Brown's main way of complying with a federal court order to reduce severe overcrowding in the state's 33 adult prisons.
As the law is written, inmates whose sentences do not include supervision are supposed to serve longer terms. Those longer sentences were intended as an inducement for convicts to seek plea agreements for the split sentences, which would allow them to participate in the post-release rehabilitation programs that are the bedrock of the state's new criminal justice approach.
The early reports show that is not happening, in part because prosecutors and judges want convicts they view as hardened criminals to serve longer sentences. Yet in many counties, overcrowding in the jails means those inmates get out months earlier than they should.