By Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York, writes that “capitalism never resolves its problems; it simply rearranges them geographically.” The same can be said of California’s almost three-year-old Public Safety Realignment initiative – legislation designed to reduce the Golden State’s prison population, in part, by transferring thousands of prisoners from state facilities to county jails.
Sadly, Realignment has merely shifted the very forms of human suffering it was originally intended to relieve. This – the paradox of modern penal reform – adds a crucial dimension to discussions about who, why and how we punish offenders. Clearly, shifting a criminal justice crisis isn’t the same as solving one.
The Realignment Initiative
Since at least 2011, the State of California has been the epicenter of contemporary prison reform in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has noted that 70% of the total decrease in state prison populations from 2010 to 2011 was a direct result of California’s Public Safety Realignment initiative.
On May 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order by a three-judge federal court requiring the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years to alleviate overcrowding that resulted in unconstitutional medical and mental health care. [See: PLN, June 2011, p.1]. California Governor Jerry Brown had called the court’s order “a blunt instrument that does not recognize the imperatives of public safety, nor the challenges of incarcerating criminals, many of whom are deeply disturbed.”