California’s overcrowded jails must be restructured

In Opinion
(Mike Trujillo / Daily Titan)

A former California senator convicted of multiple counts of voter fraud was supposed to serve 90 days in jail. Instead, he spent a grand total of one hour in jail.

Roderick Wright, who lied about his address to remain on the ballot for the 35th State Senate District, committed a crime that affected many people.
He lied to his constituency, whose best interests should have been at the top of his mind.
This is unacceptable, and Californians should be probing into the root causes of why people responsible for major offenses aren’t being held accountable in the first place.
Still, in spite of an offense that affected nearly a million Californians, Wright was let off the hook in a relatively short amount of time.
In the case of Wright and many others, the problem lies in the fact that many of California’s county jails are currently maxed out with inmates.
County jails have traditionally seen overcrowding over the past several years. Los Angeles’ County Jails are notoriously overcrowded, but so are jails in Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino Counties.
A lot of it has to do with bad spending on the part of the counties, which suddenly became responsible for tens of thousands of inmates with the passage of AB 109.
The bill required the counties to take on many of the low-risk inmates the states once handled as a type of “realignment,” but it also allotted funds for those counties to process these additional prisoners.
The results of AB 109 have been mixed. A joint study from the Stanford Law School and Stanford Criminal Justice Center concluded that counties which spend money on alternative programs rather than incarceration generally tend to receive a lot of support from their sheriff’s departments and district attorney offices for their positive impacts.
However, counties that spend more of the money on enforcement and corrections don’t see major improvements. They still face high crime rates, a shortage of staff and historically high rates of imprisonment.
The San Bernardino County jail system was recently knocked on this by statewide group Californians United for a Responsible Budget. The group said the county jail system could have invested in more alternatives to incarceration to reduce its prison population.
Many groups might be quick to argue that comprehensive alternative programs take time, something many county prisons didn’t have the luxury of after Gov. Jerry Brown passed the bill at the behest of the Supreme Court, which denied California a two-year extension on prison reform.
However, we’re more than three years from the time the bill was passed. It’s high time county agencies and institutions work toward programs that reduce their jail populations in a smart and effective way.
One of the first ways of doing that would be for county jails to come up with transitional programs to reduce the rate of repeat offenders among released inmates.
After all, many of the convicts who now found themselves in county jails instead of state prisons were second and third-time offenders. It would seem only logical then that spending should go toward preventing people from returning in the first place.
We cannot allow for a system where those found guilty of crimes are not held accountable for their crimes.
Wright faced eight counts of felony voter fraud and perjury for lying to every person who lived in the district he represented, and for those crimes he should have spent eight years in prison. One hour in prison is barely a slap on the wrist.
It’s also unfair to think that a person’s time in jail could be impacted by extenuating circumstances. If a person convicted of the same crimes as Wright had come to the county jail at a time when it was less crowded, he might have to spend the full sentence, or at least part of it, in jail.

It’s time the Los Angeles County Jail and others got smart about how they structure their realignment. The responsibility is now in their hands.
They can either blame the state for the problems they’ve inherited, or they can come up with comprehensive solutions.

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