About Public Safety Realignment

In April 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, one of the most significant changes to California corrections in decades. Public Safety Realignment shifted responsibility for people convicted of certain non-serious, nonviolent or non-sex felony offenses from state prisons and parole to county jail and probation. Realignment also established a permanent funding stream for counties to be used at their discretion to implement their new responsibilities under Public Safety Realignment.

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about Public Safety Realignment and its impact.

Why did California implement Public Safety Realignment?

AB 109 and subsequent legislation (e.g., AB 117 and AB 118) were primarily the result of federal court rulings mandating that California reduce prison overcrowding by specific benchmarks. In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling in Brown v. Plata that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that the provision of medical and mental health care was inadequate to the point of being unconstitutional. The Court upheld an earlier order by a three-judge federal court panel that California must decrease its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years. Based on prison capacity at the time of the original court order, this meant a reduction of the prison population from approximately 150,000 inmates to 110,000.

What specifically did Public Safety Realignment change?

Effective October 2011, the following changes were made in state law with respect to county and state criminal justice responsibilities (e.g., custody, corrections, reentry and supervision):

  • Individuals convicted of nonviolent or non-serious felonies (who do not meet one of the exclusions identified below) serve their sentence under the jurisdiction of the county instead of state prison. Sentences are now served either in county jail, on felony probation or on a split sentence (where part of the term is served in jail and part under supervision by the county probation department).
  • To be sentenced to state prison, an individual must: have a current or prior serious or violent felony conviction, as described in Penal Code Section 1192.7(c) or 667.5(c); have a prior conviction in another jurisdiction that is similar to those described above; be required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code Section 290; or be convicted of certain specified crimes.
  • Of those individuals who are sentenced to state prison, only those who are convicted of a current serious or violent felony; serving an indeterminate life sentence, including third-strikers; or designated as a high-risk sex offender or a Mentally Disordered Offender (by statute) will be supervised upon their release by state parole. Remaining individuals, upon release from state prison, will be supervised by county probation under Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS).
  • Individuals on state parole who violate their conditions of parole are no longer returned to state prison unless he or she had received an indeterminate (i.e., life) sentence. Instead, individuals on parole who violate the terms of their parole face up to six months in county jail.
  • Effective July 2013, the local courts, rather than the state Board of Parole Hearings, adjudicate parole violations. 

What is “Post-Release Community Supervision”?

Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS) was established by the Public Safety Realignment legislation as a distinct form of county supervision for people released from state prison who were serving a prison term for a nonviolent, non-serious non-sex felony. Each county had the opportunity to designate which local department would be responsible for PRCS, and all 58 counties selected their probation departments. Individuals who continue to be supervised by state parole (instead of PRCS) include: individuals with an indeterminate life-term, including third-strikers; individuals whose current conviction is for a serious or violent offense; high-risk sex offenders, as defined by CDCR; Mentally Disordered Offenders, as defined by statute; and individuals who were placed onto parole prior to October 1, 2011.

What is “mandatory supervision”?

Public Safety Realignment established the ability for judges to impose a “split sentence” for people convicted of nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex felonies. Split sentences require a portion of the convicted individual’s sentence is spent in county jail with the remainder spent under supervision by the probation department. The period of probation supervision after the individual who received a split sentence is released from county jail is called “mandatory supervision.” It is distinct from the other two categories of individuals supervised by probation, including individuals given a felony probation sentence or individuals released from state prison and placed on PRCS. (Split sentences help to ensure structured reentry after release from jail, since those who do “straight time” in jail only will not be supervised upon release.)

Did Public Safety Realignment physically transfer any individual state prisoners to from state prison to local jails or communities?

No. No one in state prison was transferred to counties or jails as part of Realignment.

Does Public Safety Realignment let people out of state prison early?

No. State prison inmates have not been released early from state prison as a result of Public Safety Realignment.

Did Realignment change sentencing laws regarding the length of time served for a criminal offense?

No. Sentence lengths are outlined in the penal code, and those sentence lengths did not change. However, Realignment does allow for the use of split sentencing, which means, in some instances, a person’s sentence length will be the same as before Realignment but may be split between jail time and mandatory supervision by the probation department.

What impact has Public Safety Realignment had?

The answer to this question depends on what you are measuring. Realignment could be measured in a variety of ways: cost effectiveness, reduction in prison population, recidivism, effect on crime rates, etc. There were no outcome or research requirements as part of the legislation. As a result, different entities are developing methods to measure Realignment’s impact. CDCR has reported that since the implementation of Public Safety Realignment, the state’s prison population has dropped by approximately 25,000. Reductions have leveled off. The three-judge federal panel is requiring the state of California to find additional population reduction strategies to meet the court’s benchmarks.

Did counties receive money as part of their new responsibilities?

Yes. Realignment established a dedicated and permanent revenue stream for counties through vehicle license fees and part of the state sales tax for counties to use in implementing Public Safety Realignment. Counties received approximately $350 million in the first year of Realignment, $850 million in the second year, and approximately $1 billion or more annually after that. In November 2012, California voters passed Governor Brown’s Proposition 30, which created a constitutional amendment to protect this funding by prohibiting the Legislature from reducing or removing the counties’ Realignment funding.

How do counties decide how to use AB 109 funds and otherwise adjust to the law?

The allocation that each county receives is determined by a funding formula that is developed by the Realignment Allocation Committee, established by the California State Association of Counties. Once it receives its allocation, each county has discretion over how to use it. The legislation simply states that the funding tied to Realignment must be used for the “purpose of funding various changes to the criminal justice system.” In most counties, the Community Corrections Partnership, which is defined in statute and is chaired by the Chief Probation Officer, develops an implementation plan. This plan includes an allocation of realignment funds to jail, law enforcement, probation, treatment, reentry and other areas.

Are recidivism rates any different than before Public Safety Realignment?

It is still too early to compare pre- and post-Realignment recidivism rates. However, in May 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation released an initial Realignment Report that reviewed one year of data for the 37,000 individuals released from prison during the first six months of the law (October 2011-March 2012). They compared this data with outcomes from the individuals who were released from state prison during the same period the year before Realignment. In this report, CDCR found that there was very little difference between the one-year arrest and conviction rates of individuals released pre- and post-Realignment, with a slightly lower arrest rate (59% compared to 62%) for the post-Realignment group. However, the one-year return-to-prison rate was substantially less post-Realignment (7% compared to 42%), which makes sense since Realignment significantly limits the circumstances by which someone can be returned to prison on a parole violation.