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County officials are reluctantly touting successes realized via the prison realignment system imposed by federal judges and designed to alleviate severe overcrowding at state prisons by re-directing some inmates to county jails.

“Nobody wanted this, nobody asked for this, but then unlike a lot of counties, when it was passed, we realized this was the law, and we had to make this work,” San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore told County News Service yesterday (September 24).

As realignment took effect last year, jails quickly filled to capacity and the County began a hiring push for probation officers, along with implementing a “Community Transition Center” where those released from prison early into San Diego County are evaluated and a case plan for future prison avoidance is developed.

“Realignment is an extremely complex change,” says district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who remains skeptical about the plan. “The bad news is prisoner realignment continues to be a threat to public safety, but the good news is during the past two years, we have all partnered and collaborated well here in San Diego.”

Since realignment began in October 2011, local jail populations have expanded by 27 percent. County officials are exploring the possibility of sending inmates to alternative custody programs such as state-run fire camps.

Further compounding challenges, an estimated 19 percent of inmates released fail to establish permanent residency and join the ranks of San Diego’s homeless, greatly increasing the likelihood that they’ll return to jail or prison for a potentially minor infraction.

Although crime rates spiked in San Diego in 2012, the first full year since realignment and early release programs were implemented, the overall numbers were comparable to the nation as a whole and indicative largely of trends during a slumping economy, rather than as a direct reflection of the Supreme Court ruling that led to California’s policy shift.

“It’s too early to tell if realignment is having an effect on the crime rate,” says Gore.

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