Letters to the Editor

Sunday, Dec 02 2012 11:00 PM

Kern must get smarter, not tougher, on crime

By The Bakersfield Californian

If Kern County wants a greater piece of the realignment funding pie, it must get smarter on crime.

As Supervisor Ray Watson acknowledged in his Nov. 25 opinion article, "Kern gets short end of flawed allocation system," there is an urgent need for counties to enact evidence-based reforms that will reduce the number of people behind bars and enable counties to avoid the kind of overincarceration crisis that has plagued the state prison system.

But because Kern County has maintained one of the five highest incarceration rates in California, the $23 million in state realignment funds it received this year is significantly less than it otherwise could have been had the county been more careful about resorting to incarceration. Indeed, instead of investing in programs proved to reduce incarceration, the Board of Supervisors earlier this year voted to expand the county jail at an annual cost of $26 million.

Future allocations of state realignment dollars will likely be based on how well counties implement programs that demonstrate a reduction in both the number of people behind bars and recidivism rates.

Hence, it is imperative that county leaders commit to things like expanding pretrial release programs. Counties like Santa Clara and Santa Cruz have saved tens of millions of dollars a year in incarceration costs by using validated risk assessment tools to determine which defendants can be safely supervised in the community while they await trial. And encouraging greater use of split sentences and community-based supervision programs, including substance abuse treatment and behavioral therapy, have been shown in counties across California to reduce recidivism.

Hanna Dershowitz

ACLU of California

Los Angeles

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