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AB109 - A Prison Sentence Can Be Served in County Jail

A prison sentence often not only means a long period of incarceration, but also a long distance away from loved ones.  While California does have thirty-three prisons statewide, the convenience of family visits is usually not considered in determining where one will serve their prison sentence.
The Reader’s Digest Version:  AB109 realigned California’s prison system to send certain non-violent, non-serious offenders to county jails to serve their sentences, rather than in state prison.  The impetus behind AB109 was to relieve overcrowded state prisons, which a court found being housed within to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, a constitutional violation.
Under a new law recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown and put into effect just two weeks ago on October 1, 2011, prison sentences may not be akin to having you or your loved one housed in Siberia.

On May 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower federal court’s ruling that overcrowded prison conditions in California violated the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

image descriptionMetropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles

In response, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109 (AB109).  AB109 directs the California Department of Corrections (CDC) to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates over the next two years.  There are currently 143,435 inmates in the state’s thirty-two prisons.

To comply with AB109, the CDC will not release any current prison inmates.  Instead, it will bar certain recently sentenced lower level inmates from being added to the current prison population, diverting such new inmates to local county jails.  Such inmates are those convicted of non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious felonies, including parole violators.  These most often include folks convicted of drug offenses and non-violent theft offenses, which are a high number of inmates.

In other words, such inmates, sentenced by a judge to prison, will actually “serve” their time in county jails.  Once in county jail, serving “prison time,” the inmates will be supervised by county employees, who will be able to allow inmates to serve their prison time in a variety of ways, including, it is expected, via house arrest, drug half-way houses, probation and work-release programs in some cases. 

image description
Prosecutors our office is familiar with believe county jail sentences will become meaningless as limited county jail space becomes taken up by prison inmates.   We agree to a degree.  Most prosecutors predict crime will increase and Jerry Brown will ask for more tax dollars for county jails.  We do not agree with this.

When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower federal court’s ruling, such consequences were recognized and hotly debated.  In fact, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court anticipated that prison doors would swing wide open to allow current prison inmates a transfer to county jails, which AB109 does not allow. 

Nevertheless, the justices’ were concerned for public safety, just as California citizens may be.  Justice Antonia Scalia worried:

        “46,000 happy-go-lucky felons, fortunate enough to be selected
        . . . undoubtedly fine physical specimens who have developed
        intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym, will be released.

Justice Samuel Alito also criticized the ruling in his dissent, saying the majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California.  However, as mentioned above, no violent criminal was released from prison in response to AB109. 

For our clients, some of who do face prison sentences, it is good to be aware of AB109 and how it may affect where they serve their time in prison.  Ironically, we anticipate that some of our clients will be upset with AB109 because such clients appreciate how much less stressful state prison can be than county jail.

For more information about jail and prison sentences, click on the following articles:
  1. What Is Private Jail?
  2. What Is House Arrest As an Alternative to Jail?
  3. How Do I Have My Arrest Record Sealed and Destroyed?
For case summaries of selected cases our firm has handled, click here.

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