California Realignment

In 2011 Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 109, commonly referred to as “prison realignment,” which shifted to counties the responsibility for monitoring, tracking, and incarcerating lower-level offenders previously bound for state prison. In brief, AB 109 (and AB 117, a companion bill) altered both sentencing and post-prison supervision for the newly statutorily classified “non-serious, non-violent, non-sex” offenders. While the legislation is comprehensive and complex, three major groups are affected by Realignment. First, felony offenders who have never been convicted of a “serious” or “violent” crime or an aggravated white collar crime and are not required to register as sex offenders (colloquially referred to as the “triple-nons”) will now serve their sentences in local custody. Second, released prisoners whose current commitment offense qualifies them as “triple-non” offenders are diverted to the supervision of county probation departments under “Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS).” Third, if persons on PRCS violate the technical conditions of their supervision (rather than committing a new crime), they can no longer be returned to State prison but must be sanctioned in local (county) jail or community alternatives, including house arrest, drug treatment, or flash incarceration.

  • Court-Ordered Population Caps in California County Jails by Sarah Lawrence (December 2014).

-Link to full report here

  • Beyond Litigation: A Promising Alternative to Resolving Disputes Over Conditions of Confinement in American Prisons and Jails by Matthew Cate and Robert Weisberg (December 2014).

-Link to full report here

  • Liberal But Not Stupid: Meeting the Promise of Downsizing Prisons by Joan Petersilia and Francis T. Cullin (June 2014).

-Link to full report here

  • California Prison Downsizing and Its Impact on Local Criminal Justice Systems by Joan Petersilia (May 2014).

-Link to full report here

  • The New Normal? Prosecutorial Charging in California After Public Safety Realingment by W. David Ball and Robert Weisberg (January 2014).

-Link to full report here

  • Reallocation of Responsibility: Changes to the Correctional System in California Post-Realignment by Lisa T. Quan, Sara Abarbanel, and Debbie Mukamal (January 2014).

-Link to full report here
-Link to Executive Summary here

  • Assessing Judicial Sentencing Preferences After Public Safety Realignment: A Survey of California Judges by Robert Weisberg and Lisa T. Quan (January 2014).

-Link to full report here

  • Follow the Money: How California Counties Are Spending Their Public Safety Realignment Funds by Jeffrey Lin and Joan Petersilia (January 2014).

-Link to full report here
-Link to Executive Summary here

  • Voices from the Field: How California Stakeholders View Public Policy Safety Realignment by Joan Petersilia (January 2014).

– Link to full report here

Stanford Criminal Justice Center Realignment Research Projects

The Stanford Criminal Justice Center is undertaking a number of research projects aimed at better understanding the implementation and effect of California’s Public Safety Realignment legislation. In particular, through the following four research projects, we are analyzing the extent to which California’s move to downsize state prisons through Public Safety Realignment legislation has changed the decision-making and resource allocation of the primary actors in the criminal justice system. Our work includes original data collection and analysis (projects 1 through 4) as well as convening thought leaders across the state to study and identify solutions to the biggest challenges arising from Realignment’s implementation (project 5).

Funding for these projects comes from the National Institute of Justice; the James Irvine Foundation; and the Public Welfare Foundation.

Research Projects

(1) Follow the Money: How California Counties Are Spending Their Public Safety Realignment Funds (Jeffery Lin and Joan Petersilia): We collected data and analyzed the approach California’s 58 counties took to implementing Realignment by analyzing their first year spending plans in the context of the distinct demographics, political dynamics, and criminal justice and social service cultures of particular counties. For a link to full report, click here. For an Executive Summary of the report, click here.

(2) Voices from the Field: How California Stakeholders View Public Safety Realignment (Joan Petersilia): We have interviewed over 125 criminal justice practitioners (prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, sheriffs, probation chiefs, parole agents, victim services representatives) across 20 counties to assess their approach to and implementation of Realignment and identify promising programs created by Realignment. For the full report, click here.

(3) Assessing Judicial Sentencing Preferences after Public Safety Realignment: A Survey of California Judges (Robert Weisberg): Using approaches from the fields of criminology, law and economics and the development of hypothetical survey instruments, we are polling judges across California as to how their sentencing decisions have changed post-Realignment in an effort to capture whether and what kind of variance has resulted. We are collaborating with the California Judges Association in the administration of the survey. For the full report, click here.

(4) The New Normal? Prosecutorial Charging in California After Public Safety Realignment (W. David Ball and Robert Weisberg):Using a similar approach to that being used for our statewide judges study, we are developing hypothetical survey instruments and polling prosecutors across California as to how their charging decisions have changed post-Realignment in an effort to capture whether and what kind of variance has resulted. For the full report, click here.

(5) Stanford Executive Session on Public Safety Realignment (Matt Cate, Sarah Lawrence and Debbie Mukamal): We are studying the impact of Realignment on the front-end of the criminal justice system through the convening of full-day Executive Session meetings and a report that addresses some of the major front-end issues created by Realignment, identifies priority issues, and establishes areas of consensus among Executive Session members to address those issues. The first Executive Session meeting was convened on June 10, 2013 and addressed pre-trial and jail management issues. The second meeting that was held on October 28, 2013 focused on the operational effects of Realignment on community supervision. At the third meeting in February 2014 the effects of Realignment on public safety and local law enforcement were discussed. For more information, click here.

Matt Cate, former Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and current Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties, serves as the Chair of the Executive Session. Other Executive Session members include: Sheriff Bill Brown (Santa Barbara); Jim Bueermann (Police Foundation); Police Chief Jerry Dyer (Fresno); District Attorney George Gascon (San Francisco); Director of Pre-trial Services Garry Herceg (Santa Clara); Sheriff Sandra Hutchens (Orange County); District Attorney Jackie Lacey (Los Angeles); Probation Chief Jerry Powers (Los Angeles); and Police Chief Kim Raney (Covina).


Key Faculty and Staff

Joan Petersilia, Co-Faculty Director and Professor of
Robert Weisberg, Co-Faculty Director and Professor of
Debbie Mukamal, Executive Director:
Matt Cate, Law and Policy Fellow and Executive Director, California State Association of Counties
Sarah Lawrence, Research Director, Front-End Realignment
David Ball, Assistant Professor, Santa Clara School of Law:
Lisa Quan, Research Assistant:
Sara Abarbanel, Administrative Associate:


Faculty Co-Director Joan Petersilia taught a new seminar in Fall 2011 focused exclusively on better understanding and analyzing Realignment’s sentencing and corrections changes. For more information, please see the following class syllabus, brief description of the student papers, Roadmap for Realignment, and student papers:

Advanced Seminar on Criminal Law and Public Policy class syllabus

Overview of Student Papers

Roadmap for Realignment

Student Papers:

The Effect of Realignment on Mentally Ill Offenders by Ashly Nikkole Davis (2012)

Realigning the Revolving Door? An Analysis of California Counties’ AB 109 Implementation Plans by Sara Abarbanel, Angela McCray, Kathryn McCann Newhall, and Jessica Greenlick Snyder (2013) 

The First Fifty: A Study of “Realigned” Offenders Released to Santa Clara County Under Post-Release Community Supervision by Ashley Rogers (2012)

The Face of the First 30: A Look at Santa Clara County’s Newly Realigned Population and the Challenges They Will Present by Hannah Lommers-Johnson (2012)

Flash Incarceration: Due Process in an Era of Intermediate Sanctions by Lorenzo Arroyo (2012)

Realignment’s Impact on the Public Defender and District Attorney: A Tale of Five Counties by Malaina Freedman and Craig Menchin (2012)

Unintended Beneficiaries? White Collar Offenders and California’s Criminal Justice Realignment by Joel Fyke (2012)

Someone to Show the Way: Community-Based Organizations as Partners in Providing Evidence-Based Practices Under California Criminal Justice Realignment by Michael E. Stewart (2012)