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Change to California's Prison Realignment Law Focuses on Drug Dealers

by Blake Bunch, published

prison realignment law

California Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill that would send drug dealers to state prisons instead of county jails. The bill, introduced in response to Governor Jerry Brown's prison realignment law, has support from Democrats throughout the state.

According to an Associated Press article, Cooley's bill delves into specific measurements of illicit substances sold, aiming for drug dealers "higher up" on the chain. This realignment effort will place those charged with the sale or transport of "more than 2.2 pounds of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine in state institutions.

The prison realignment law of 2011, or AB 109, was in direct response to the Supreme Court's order for the state to reduce its prison population by 137 percent capacity by May 24, 2013.

This realignment plan, the most comprehensive effort in the state since California's "three strikes" law, still faces the ominous reality of overcrowded prisons. It has, however, successfully decreased prison populations in the state's thirty-three adult prisons by 25,000 inmates. The Supreme Court's order still stipulates that the state decrease correctional populations by an additional 10,000 inmates by the end of 2013.

Cooley is not the only legislator proposing changes to Brown's realignment law and drug dealers are not the only targets. Another bill, introduced by Assemblyman Eric Linder (R-Corona), entails that sex offenders in violation of parole should be returned to state prisons as well.

According to the prison realignment law, it "effectively transfers responsibility for nonserious, nonviolent and non-Pen C §290 registrable sex offenders from the state to the counties." Pen C §290 registrable sex offenders must be accounted for while living or working in California. Classified as such, these convicted sex offenders must make this information public to whichever state they reside in the future.

Linder's bill, though similar to recommendations made by the California Public Safety Committee, was blocked in a vote of 2-4 by Democrats. Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) led the opposition, citing the fact that the state provides money to individual counties to deal with prison realignment.

Prison overcrowding associated with realignment is among many serious issues plaguing California's correctional facilities. Insufficient inmate healthcare, also associated with overcrowding, has also remained sub-par. Inmates often go on hunger strikes and other forms of protest to expose prison shortcomings, whether valid or not.

Regardless, this push to send repeat offenders back to state facilities may or may not aide in the overcrowding problem. It does, however, address the need to keep criminals off the streets, despite how "non-violent" the state deems them to be.

Though California Democrats stuck to their guns and blocked Linder's bill, Cooley's legislation should continue to garner support from both parties.

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