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Do Now

Answer one of the following questions:

  1. What is the role of prison in our society? Should it just be to keep dangerous people off the streets, or should it also be a place that provides rehabilitation services (keep in mind that the California agency that handles the state’s prison system is called the “Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation”)?
  2. When someone is convicted of a non-violent crime (like drug possession or theft), should they be sent to state prison with more serious offenders, or is it better to keep them in local jails where they have more access to community services?


On October 1, California began implementing a massive change in its prison system called “realignment.” Under this system, newly convicted low-level offenders and parolees (“non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders”) who previously went to state prison, will now be placed in county jails or be put in locally run probation programs. Realignment is expected to reduce the state’s prison population by many thousands of inmates, but it will also likely increase the population of many county jails around the state. Some counties, especially those without the capacity to house many more inmates, are considering new alternatives to incarceration programs for non-violent offenders (like probation and rehabilitation services), as well as shortened sentences. Realignment is a response to the reportedly poor conditions in California’s notoriously overcrowded state prisons (and recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state had to decrease number of inmates), and the very high rate of recidivism (repeated offenders). It is also an attempt to figure out cheaper methods of handling non-violent criminals, in the wake of the state’s budget crisis.


The California Report San Diego: Model City for Prison Realignment?
A seismic shift in California’s criminal justice system begins this weekend. Governor Jerry Brown calls it “realignment,” or giving local governments more control over supervision and incarceration of low-level criminals and parole violators. To see how realignment might work statewide we visit San Diego, in many ways a model county for helping ex-offenders stay out of prison. Reporter: Scott Shafer

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More Resources for Follow-up Lessons

NPR Coverage — Communities Worry As Calif. Realigns Prison System
California has begun transferring supervision of thousands of its prisoners and parolees to local officials. That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to radically reduce its overcrowded prisons. Local officials say the new program, known as realignment, will lead to a spike in crime.

KQED Forum segment — California Prison Realignment
Beginning in October, California will reduce its prison population by moving thousands of low-level non-violent offenders to counties. The move comes on the heels of a court order to reduce the population of the state’s overcrowded prisons. But are counties ready to take on these inmates?

NPR Coverage — California’s New Prison Policy Has Some Skeptics
California is days away from launching a dramatic shift in the way it handles criminal offenders: Starting in October, the state will redirect tens of thousands of nonviolent felons away from state prisons to local facilities. The state’s plan is called “realignment.” It shifts certain functions from the state to the counties, says Barry Krisberg, who teaches criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, law school.

Image above: An inmate at the Chino California Institution for Men State Prison sleeps on his bunk bed. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Do Now #5: California Prison Reform 8 March,2017Matthew Green



Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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