Grassroots Response to “Realignment”

“Realignment is the result of the “Criminal Justice Realignment Act,” which came into effect in October 2011. Contrary to popular belief, realignment was NOT California’s response to the unprecedented U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering a reduction in the number of people in state prisons. Rather, realignment was implemented to reduce California’s budget deficit – the state was addressing budgetary concerns instead of human concerns. In fact, realignment is expanding, not reducing the number of people incarcerated in California.

In essence, realignment shifts people convicted of “non-serious”, “non-sexual”, and “nonviolent offenses” out of the state prison system and into county jurisdiction and county jails. People are still being incarcerated, despite other alternatives mandated by law, i.e. drug-treatment, other rehabilitative programming, or county supervision. The shift has resulted in plans by 32 out of 58 counties to expand jail capacity.  Realignment has led to a decrease in numbers of people in state prison, but has not decreased the total number of people incarcerated in California.

All of Us or None has been in the forefront of organizing a response to realignment’s negative impacts. Our activities include:

  • In San Mateo County, All of Us or None, CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget), and the Occupy movement are fighting to stop construction of a new 640-bed jail.
  • In Los Angeles County, All of Us or None is part of a coalition that has exposed rampant violence by jail guards under Sheriff Lee Baca, and is fighting against jail expansion
  • In Alameda County, All of Us or None is working for the community to have a voice in selection of a new Probation Chief, and for reforms in local probation and jail policies

The Community is Excluded: The governing body under Realignment, the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP), is comprised of an Executive Committee (EC) with the ultimate 7 votes and decision-making power. The majority representation of the CCP-EC is law enforcement: chief probation officer, chief of police, sheriff, district attorney, public defender, presiding judge of the superior court, a representative from the County Department of Social Services, Mental Health, or Alcohol and Substance Abuse Programs. A question one must ask: Why isn’t there someone from the community, directly impacted by Realignment, represented in the CCP-EC, since they have the ultimate decision-making power?

Policies at the California Jails: Realignment poses challenges to community and health. Under realignment, the courts may sentence a person to an unlimited amount of time in county jail. There have been cases where people have been sentenced up to two decades in the county jail. People sentenced to jail under realignment have even less access to health care, mental health care and programing opportunities than they would in state prison. Jails were not designed for long-term incarceration and lack access to sunlight and exercise. Most county jails in California do not allow contact visiting, so children must visit their parents through a small glass window. Funding cuts have closed programs that served as alternatives to incarceration. Realignment is being implemented without the knowledge of or meaningful input from low-income communities of color who are most impacted by the policy.

Tapping Grassroots Wisdom: All of Us or None is documenting and publicizing the impact of realignment on our communities from a grassroots perspective.  We are conducting townhalls to provide a forum for community voices, so we can galvanize ourselves in county-based campaigns to stop all expansion of county jails and to win changes in conditions and policies such as:

  • Bail Reform, Increased use of Own Recognizance (OR) bonds
  • Contact visiting in all county jails
  • Full access to all programs and services for disabled people, monitored by Public Health Departments
  • Access to outdoor recreation and natural sunlight
  • Increased educational and vocational programming
  • Equal access to programing for all prisoners
  • Reduced time for probation supervision (currently 5 years in most counties)
  • Mandated inclusion of community members on the Executive Committees of Community Corrections Partnerships, with voting power

Creating a New Vision of Community Safety: All of Us or None will be conducting participatory research led by formerly incarcerated people in key counties to document the impact of Realignment on people, families and communities. From this process of community research and outreach, we will develop community-led policy campaigns to ensure that realignment builds healthy communities. All of Us or None seeks to create a new vision of community safety and to institutionalize that vision through criminal justice policies that invest in community health. We believe that the leadership and knowledge of incarcerated, formerly-incarcerated people and our families are central to achieving the systemic change our communities need. Our Realignment campaign aims to increase access to employment, housing and social services, stronger family and social relationships, and improved mental and physical health in low-income communities of color by reducing incarceration.