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Prison shuffle swells City probation ranks

Right now, many of California’s incarcerated felons are serving time in county jails instead of the heavily overcrowded state penitentiaries. Those on the outs are now answering to county probation instead of state parole.

It’s called prison realignment, and the feds have put the heat on state officials to get it done.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California had to get its prison population down to 137.5 percent of capacity by mid-2013. This left the state with no choice but to release 34,000 of their least serious offenders. And San Francisco is ready for them.

The City’s recently reformed adult probation department has been given the authority, funds and training to approach the realignment program with a generous, social work-minded effort.

Their goal is to rehabilitate their new clients, as opposed to watching them stumble on a quick track back to where they came from.

“Probationers” have become “clients.” And probation staff has been trained in risk-assessment and referral so they can effectively guide those clients to community services for help getting GEDs, housing, drug rehab, clothes, and money.

Adult Probation Chief Wendy Still sees realignment as an opportunity to succeed where the state has so miserably failed. She has already lobbied the city supervisors for money to hire more staff. And the department also received 87 percent of the $5.8 million in state realignment money allocated to San Francisco for the first year. So the resources are there.

“This demographic is not afraid of doing time,” probation supervisor Gabe Calvillo told SF Weekly. “You have to find other options.”

This often equates to much more leniency than a parolee under the state’s watchful eye could ever expect. And there’s an emphasis on encouraging the individual to succeed rather than holding them to every letter of the law.

“You can’t keep putting people in county jail for having a crack pipe. There’s just not the capacity,” Calvillo said.

Whether or not the new system will reduce recidivism and help get convicted felons on the road to recovery is still unknown. The city controller will collect data this year on the effects of realignment on San Francisco, including how many clients have re-offended.

California did meet its first realignment benchmark last December, however, cutting the prison population down by 11,000 inmates since the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Roughly 23,000 more will be released in the coming months.

Too bad they can’t all come home to San Francisco.

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