Realignment is the result of a federal three-judge panel ordering the state in 2009 to reduce the prison population from close to 190 percent to 137.5 percent of design capacity. This historic reform shifted incarceration and supervision responsibility for many lower-level felons from the state prison system to county sheriffs and probation departments, based on the idea that local agencies may perform better at treating these types of criminal cases.
The prison population finally fell below the target after state voters passed Proposition 47 in November 2014, which reduced penalties for many drug and property offenses. Between November 2014 and August 2015, the prison population fell by almost 7,800.
Proposition 47 broadly changed felony sentencing laws in three ways. First, it reclassified some theft and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Second, it authorizes defendants currently serving sentences for felony offenses that qualify as misdemeanors under Prop 47 to petition courts to sentence their offenses as they would sentence misdemeanors. Third, it authorizes defendants who have completed their sentences for felony convictions that qualify as misdemeanors under the proposition to apply to reclassify their convictions to misdemeanors.
Prop 47 required that any money saved as a result of its passing would be spent on “school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health, and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail.”
As an example, forgery had previously been considered a “wobbler” offense that the prosecutor could charge as a misdemeanor or a felony. The passage of Proposition 47 restricts prosecutors from charging it as a felony when it involves less than $950 unless the defendant has a criminal record.
The populations of county jails increased under realignment, but at a rate significantly smaller than the decline in California’s prison population. The jail population rose by only about one inmate for every three fewer offenders in state prison. The decline in the total population of individuals incarcerated in California prisons and county jails primarily occurred in the first year of realignment. California’s combined jail-and-prison-incarceration rate dropped from 619 per 100,000 residents to 566.
While 18,000 offenders who would have been incarcerated were free because of realignment, violent crime did not rise because of realignment. One of the goals of realignment was to reduce recidivism among lower-level offenders. To achieve this, realignment shifted post-release supervision of most lower-level felons from state parole to county probation departments. At this time, there is no clear evidence that realignment has significantly reduced recidivism.
Today, as the result of realignment, persons who have completed their sentences for felony offenses that would have qualified as misdemeanors under the new laws may apply for a reduction of their felony conviction to a misdemeanor. Proposition 47 added Penal Code § 1170.18 to authorize persons currently serving sentences for felony convictions that are now misdemeanors to petition courts for recalls of sentences and to request resentencing under the new laws.
For over forty years, and after the passing of Prop 47 by California voters, the Dolan Law Offices have provided post-conviction services to help the residents of the Coachella Valley clear their criminal record to restore their future as productive, law-abiding members of our community. There are not many attorneys more experienced in helping California residents clear their criminal records than John Patrick Dolan. Call the Dolan Law Offices today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.