Walters: Overcrowding becomes a local problem

Under heavy pressure from federal courts to relieve prison overcrowding, but unwilling — for political reasons — to directly release inmates, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature devised realignment.

Newly convicted felons whose crimes were presumed to be nonviolent, nonsexual and nonserious would be diverted into local jails, and local probation and rehabilitation services, thereby reducing the prison population by attrition.

Felons already in prison would be paroled more leniently, and parole violators who once would have been shipped back to prison would receive more tolerant treatment.

From Brown’s standpoint, it’s worked brilliantly.

The prison population, which had topped 170,000 before federal judges intervened, has dropped under 120,000 and is just a few thousand away from complying with the judges’ number.

However, as with all big political decisions, there are unforeseen — or at least unacknowledged — consequences.

The biggest impact has been on local criminal justice in California, particularly on county and city jails.

As Los Angeles Times reporter Paige St. John details in a recent article, the sheriffs who operate local jails have made room for tens of thousands of diverted felons by releasing misdemeanor offenders, while parole violators are often released immediately.

Effectively, therefore, jailers have become judges, deciding who remains locked up and who is released, regardless of their original sentences.

Logic would indicate that having fewer miscreants behind bars would result in more crime, and local officials believe that it has.

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