Realignment: S.F. Praised For Absorbing State Inmates, Yet Crime Is on the Rise

Categories: Crime, Law & Order

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In a town with a reputation for rebel prosecutors, District Attorney George Gascón stands out.

Locals would never confuse San Francisco's chief prosecutor -- the longtime cop, former chief of police, and former Republican -- with progressive predecessors like Terence Hallinan. Yet when implementing state prison reform, San Francisco is still way out there -- in a good way, according to a recent report from the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

The report examined how county prosecutors across the state are dealing with realignment, the shuffling of lower-level offenders from state prison to county jail as part of the reduction of overcrowded state prison populations.

And San Francisco is leading the way: with less crowded jails, the city easily absorbed lower-level offenders from the state. And county jails are less crowded to begin with, thanks to incarceration alternatives, including drug addiction treatment.

But since realignment began, there's been an increase in crime in San Francisco. So what's going on?

Innovation is possibly the most-overused, least-understood buzzword in the lexicon today, particularly in San Francisco (where it's second only to "disrupt"). But there it is: San Francisco is an "exemplary model of innovative AB 109 implementation," according to the report, which praised the city's Adult Probation Department and Sheriff's Department for giving inmates treatment, classes, and other tools to succeed in society before shoving them back out the door with a criminal record.

Warm praise is also there for Gascón, who says that realignment provided him an opportunity to do criminal justice in a way that wouldn't have been possible before. He created a new job (Alternative Sentencing Planner who advises prosecutors what punishment to request a judge impost) and created a new database, called DA Stat, that will give prosecutors a better idea of who's committing what crime.

This is all great. Yet for some reason, property crimes have also increased in San Francisco since realignment began in early 2011.

Auto thefts have spiked close to 20 percent, from 510 car thefts a year to about 650. IN addition, property crimes have increased from about 4,600 a year to 5,400, according to data from the FBI Uniform Crime report.

It's much worse in other Bay Area cities: In Oakland, perennially understaffed cops are dealing with a 30 percent increase in property crimes, and in San Jose -- which has an equally bad staffing shortage -- there was a double-digit increase in auto thefts.

All of this can be tied back to the economy. Gascón is DA of one of the richest counties in the country and has resources that counterparts in Stockton, Merced or Riverside could only dream of. Good luck getting one of those counties to pay for an in-house social worker.

And remember realignment sent home "non" criminals -- nonsexual and nonviolent. That means someone busted boosting cars could be sent home earlier -- where he or she might return to their old ways. "Violent offenders are still being sent to prison. Property criminals are the ones who are being released early and are going back to commit more crimes," the report said.

Left unsaid is how easy it is for a former prisoner, nonviolent or not, to get a job in a single-track, tech-mad economy (hint: it's not easy).

It's still hard out there for an ex-con, and not even San Francisco has figured out how to innovate that one.

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