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Beyond the Bubble: Riverside County DA Considers Classes/Fines for Low-Level Offenders

| April 5, 2012
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Rachael Myrow here, host of the California Report, with an AM post from somewhere else in California. Because we’re in this Golden State together. Right?

It’s a terrible name, realignment. For one thing, it provides no clear visual as to what it stands for: a massive shift in the way California incarcerates.

Over the last half-year, the state has been shifting responsibility for thousands of “low level” (read non-violent) offenders from state prisons to county lock-ups.  Granted, we’ve got a lot of big public policy issues clamoring for attention, but with a name like realignment, how are most civilians going to follow along?  There’s no natural Twitter hashtag, no catchy rhyme possible, nothing for headline writers to work with. (OK, I’m done ranting now, Governor Brown.)

The California Report’s Scott Shafer conducted an excellent explanatory interview with Barry Krisberg, director of the Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley, back in August. “What we’re looking at is one of the largest transformations of the correctional system in California that’s ever occurred,” Krisberg said.

Shafer followed up in September with a nice profile of how realignment is going in San Diego.  In October, KPCC’s Julie Small visited Alameda County. In November, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reported Los Angeles County doesn’t have the beds for the thousands of people coming its way, potentially forcing Sheriff Lee Baca to opt for more early releases than he’s inclined to.

Some people are optimistic the counties will do a better job than the state (depending on whether the state attempts to achieve budgetary savings on the backs of local law enforcement as time marches on).

Not all of California’s 58 counties face a human tidal wave. But some county jails are bulging at the seams, and these are generally the same counties where local DAs are already overwhelmed and understaffed, given the budgets cuts just about everybody has to deal with.

All of this creates an incentive to reduce the flow of people needing to be locked up.

So I noted with some interest today a story out of Riverside. The Press Enterprise reports the district attorney is considering something not unlike traffic school and fines for people who commit “minor offenses.”

What kind of minor offenses? Public drunkenness, vandalism, forgery, driving on a suspended license and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Eligible defendants go to court and plead guilty. They then attend at least one class dealing with anger management, drugs or something else related to the offender’s crime. If said offender completes the program within 90 days and pays fees and restitution, he/she goes back to court, where the prosecutor moves to dismiss the case (although a record of the proceedings would remain with the court).

Orange County started something similar in 2008, and is reportedly – at least according to the Press Enterprise – happy with the results.

It’s an interesting idea. Certainly, one worth watching.

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About the Author ()

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness. Reach Rachael Myrow at rmyrow@kqed.org.

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