Realignment: A Seismic Shift in California’s Prison Policy

Oct 24, 2011

Host: Joseph Pace

Producer: Lisa Denenmark 

In May of this year, the US Supreme Court deemed California’s prisons to be dangerously overcrowded. Concern about inhumane conditions that violate the eighth amendment led to the mandate that California reduce its prison population by up to forty thousand by the year 2014.

Governor Jerry Brown’s response, AB 109, also known as “realignment”, went into effect on October 1st. It diverts low-level offenders and parole violators from state prisons to county jails.

Legislators say the plan will not only reduce prison crowding in a state, which at 65%, has the highest recidivism rate in the US—but also possibly save California $2 billion annually.

In theory, realignment presents opportunities for improvement of California’s broken criminal justice system, but many questions remain unanswered:

How are counties planning to enact realignment?

  • Are local jurisdictions prepared and adequately resourced to absorb the increase in inmates and parolees?
  • What, if any, oversight and accountability exists to monitor the implementation of this policy-- and the criminal justice system overall-- across the state?
  • And how might this shift in corrections policy lead to efforts to address California's high recidivism rate?



  • Marisa Lagos, who covers state politics for the San Francisco Chronicle, focusing on the Legislature, elections, prisons, crime, and more. She also authors a weekly column called Capitol Notebook.
  • Hadar Aviram, Associate Professor at UC Hastings College of the Law.  Her research examines the criminal justice system, and particularly corrections in California, through a social science perspective. She is currently writing a book about the impact of the financial crisis on the American correctional landscape. She also runs the California Correctional Crisis blog.
  • Keramet Reiter, a lawyer and a doctoral candidate in Jurisprudence & Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley who researches and writes about the history and uses of solitary confinement in the U.S., and especially in California. She also volunteers as an instructor with the Prison University Project at San Quentin state prison.