AudioVision

From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

Scenes from California's new prison system

When Shane Alfonso saw probation officers walk into his backyard, he picked up a shotgun and ran for it. He knew that possession of a firearm and the stolen dirt bike in his backyard were violations of the terms of his probation.

A team of Sheriff's deputies and probation officers from San Bernardino County eventually caught up with Alfonso, dragged him to the ground and took him into booking.

Alfonso is one of thousands of offenders who have committed non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual crimes that normally would have landed them in state prison, but are now under county supervision.

As part of California's prison realignment program — which was supposed to reduce the prison populations in the state by approximately 30,000 inmates by 2014 — Alfonso served a shorter sentence in a county jail. He was then released under the supervision of the probation department in San Bernardino.

Since AB109 went into effect in 2011, state prisons are holding 25,000 fewer inmates, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Offenders are now serving time in county jails, and — in some counties — are often released earlier, though they remain under supervision by the probation department.

While the results of realignment on California communities are still unclear, the process has substantially increased the caseload for probation departments. Many have received grants and federal money to help them deal with the new pressures, by adding more personnel and increasing rehabilitation programs.

The San Bernardino Probation Department has hired over 100 new officers since realignment went into effect to help deal with over 6,000 new offenders the department has to track.

Procedures for dealing with offenders vary from county to county, but most probation officers make personal visits to homes and dig through personal possessions in search of drugs, guns or apparent violations of their probation.

In Riverside, where some of these photos were taken, 67 percent of AB109 offenders enter into a program called "split sentencing." 

Split sentencing allows offenders to serve a portion of their jail terms at home, under the supervision of the probation department. That means regular check-ins by officers and frequent drug tests.

A recent report by Stanford University shows that overall violent crimes in most parts of California have continued to decline under realignment. However, in some areas there have been increases in property and auto theft since the changes took effect in 2011.

The efficacy of probation departments and police in dealing with these new offenders is also unclear. High visibility cases such as Dustin Kinnear, an AB109 offender who fatally stabbed a tourist in Hollywood, highlight that probation departments cannot always keep up with these higher risk offenders.

Under realignment, California's prison system has spread beyond barbed wire fences and probation and police officers have been the ones to keep the system in place. The effects of this new system are still unknown.

Recently on AudioVision