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September 23, 2011 > Community forums on criminal justice realignment

Community forums on criminal justice realignment

In response to an effort by the State to reduce costly, overcrowded prisons and the number of inmates who reoffend and are re-incarcerated, the County of Santa Clara and the Santa Clara County Re-Entry Network are holding Community Forums on the realignment of the County's Criminal Justice System.

The Network, launched in early August to help build safer communities through the successful reintegration of former inmates and prisoners, sponsored its first community forum September 14. The forum was co-hosted by the network's community partners Silicon Valley De-Bug and the Center for Employment Training (CET).

"These community forums are key in preparing for the challenges and opportunities realignment will bring to our current criminal justice system," said County of Santa Clara Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Board's Public Safety and Justice Committee. "Our main goal is to maintain public safety. The feedback gained from these forums will help ensure that the appropriate support, services, and supervision will be given to inmates so that they can be successful."

Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requested State Prison officials to reduce over 30,000 inmates from prisons within the next two years, Assembly Bill 109 will divert low-level, non-violent inmates to counties, including parole violators who otherwise would spend several months in State prison, and offenders sentenced to less than three years for crimes such as drug dealing.

"The State will be making significant changes in sentencing and parole guidelines in the near future," said County of Santa Clara Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Vice-Chair of the Board's Public Safety and Justice Committee. "These forums will provide the public an opportunity to learn about the changes and facilitate the exchange of ideas."

Starting October 1, 2011, the day AB109 will become effective, all qualifying low-level offenders -convicted of non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenses - will begin serving their sentence at the local level rather than in state prison.

Approximately 60 offenses have been excluded from realignment. C counties will begin supervising all state inmates discharged from prison who are placed on Post Release Community Supervision. Parolees who violate the terms of his or her parole will serve any detention time due to the violation in the local jail rather than state prison.

"These community forums will be useful vehicles to communicate the changes and to gather ideas and experiences that will help us make the necessary adjustments during this transition," said Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell. "We anticipate historic changes in our justice system and we are preparing to respond in a thoughtful and swift manner to the opportunities that are coming our way."

Additional forums will be scheduled in the weeks ahead to allow the public to learn how State mandates will impact the County's justice system and to provide feedback on the realignment process.

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