Locking down reforms - Page 2

San Francisco is a model for counties wrestling with Realignment -- but more challenges and opportunities remain


"We haven't had an overarching initiative that we've all been required to sit around a table and work on. This has kind of brought us together, and we've discovered other areas where we need to work together as well," Hennessy said.

That has sparked new programs. For example, San Francisco just started to bring those about to be paroled from state prison into the local jail before their release in order to integrate them into the San Francisco rehabilitation system. "We're creating a reentry cycle for them so they aren't just getting off the bus and landing here and going directly to Probation for an interview," Hennessy said. "Now, we're going to try to bring them here 60 days early and provide them with wrap-around services, so that we can get them established, get them housing, give them the best opportunity we can for a successful reentry."

With counties now responsible for the people local judges send to jail, there's more interest in reforming sentencing laws and exploring more progressive and community-based alternatives to incarceration, which is the focus of the new San Francisco Sentencing Commission that held its first meeting last month.

"District Attorney [George] Gascon is very supportive of Realignment, DA's Office spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman told us. "He has said it could have the greatest impact on justice reform in decades. San Francisco is on its way to being a model for the state."

But the flip-side of San Francisco's advantages has been a growing backlash against Realignment in conservative counties with disproportionately high incarceration rates and a lack of capacity in their jails – which is often a byproduct of combining tough-on-crimes policies with anti-tax attitudes, something Ammiano is now dealing with in Sacramento.

"There is a lot of push-back from the Republican Party and alarmism over Realignment," Ammiano said, noting that he's just waiting to be hit with anecdotal stories about a transferred inmate committing some horrific crime, even though Realignment only involves low-level convicts who committed non-violent and non-sexual crimes.

Ammiano will work with a newly constituted Board of State and Community Corrections that will distribute funds to counties that need to beef up each their jail capacities or their treatment programs. That mix hasn't been set yet, but Ammiano said he won't support counties that simply seek more state resources to maintain high incarceration rates.

"In one way, it's perturbing and the other way, it's exciting," Ammiano said. "For me, the more the county has programs, the more sympathetic I'll be."

Yet in this era of chronically underfunded government entities, even San Francisco is strained. Hennessy and Brin say Realignment has brought more inmates with serious mental health issues into the jails for longer periods of time -- and that has stretched their resources.

"That's where we lack, even before AB 109, and I'd like to get more people in there who are experts in the mental health field," Brin said.