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Some realignment offenders go unsupervised after release

California’s prison law leads to many offenders being released with no probation

Posted: April 27, 2013 9:01 p.m.
Updated: April 27, 2013 9:01 p.m.
 

Many offenders who would have gone to prison before the state passed its realignment law in 2011 — and thus would have spent a period on probation or parole after their sentences — are now released without any supervision because none is required after county incarceration, a county official said last week.

Thus as a result of realignment, which reduced the overcrowding in state prisons to comply with a federal court order, there has been an increase in felons who go unsupervised upon release, according to Jerry Powers, chief probation officer for Los Angeles County.

Because of this, judges have the option of imposing so-called split sentences on offenders.

A split sentence means an offender can serve a portion of his or her sentence in custody and then complete the sentence under county probation or parole supervision.

But only about 5.4 percent of realignment offenders in Los Angeles County received a split sentence from October 2011, when realignment began, to September 2012, according to the most recent data available from the Chief Probation Officers of California.

By comparison, 17 counties in California sentenced more than half of their offenders to split sentences.

“Only the court can do that,” Powers said of split sentencing. “And they’ve been reluctant to do that.”

From October 2011 to September 2012, 8,732 inmates sentenced under realignment went exclusively to jail in Los Angeles County, compared to only 473 who received split sentences, according to the Chief Probation Officers of California.

Inmates can apply for parole to lessen their jail terms, but since parole supervision can be instituted for a period of up to two years and many inmates do not receive lengthy jail sentences under realignment, this may not be an attractive option, according to “Felony Sentencing After Realignment,” a law-review document that was written by two state judges.

“Inmates committed for longer terms, however, may find county parole an appealing alternative to custody,” the document reads.

According to the document, judges have discretion on whether to impose a split sentence, though some of the factors considered include an offender’s risk assessment, a measure of how likely he or she is to commit another crime, and recommendations from the Probation Department.

Powers said the Probation Department “fully supports” split sentences.

“Judges will say, ‘I can give this individual a local prison sentence, or I can give them a felony probation sentence that includes eight months of custody and three-year probation term,’” Powers said. “That (the latter) is more attractive.”

The lack of post-release supervision makes an offender more likely to commit another crime, according to the Chief Probation Officers of California.

“The Chief Probation Officers of California believe, based on years of research and experience that California citizens are better served with increased use of split sentencing,” reads an issue brief from the organization.

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