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Assessing Judicial Sentencing Preferences After Public Safety Realignment: A Survey of California Judges

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2014
143 pages
This study surveyed 112 California Superior Court (trial) judges, who represented 35 California counties (96 percent of the State's population), about their experiences under the State's Public Safety Realignment ("AB 109"), which has transferred authority for the supervision of most non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders from the State to the 58 counties.
The judges focused on sentencing parameters as the key to managing the types of offenders that have become the responsibility of the counties. Judges sentencing preferences generally included a combination of a "taste of jail" and rigorous community supervision. Among judges who preferred this split sentence, however, there was a significant variation in the chosen fraction between jail time and time on community supervision. When judges impose a split sentence, they can also determine whether or not to mandate treatment. Any violation of the conditions of that supervision will result in a return to jail for a period up to the end of the original maximum sentence. The Realignment legislation (AB 109) does not provide any rules or criteria to guide the judiciary in determining whether to split a sentence or how much of the split sentence should be on supervision, or the proper conditions of that supervision. Judges currently have full discretion as to the fraction of the split sentence that should be served in jail and under mandatory supervision. Based on these findings, this report recommends that the California Legislature and/or the California judiciary clarify the relationship between traditional felony probation (no jail time) and a split sentence. There should also be consensus and guidance on when and how to use split sentences. In addition, counties should improve and increase the availability of effective community-based treatment resources. Improved treatment programs in the context of community supervision will likely increase judges' confidence in using probation without jail time. 24 tables, 4 figures, a 23-item bibliography, and appended judicial survey, judicial survey results, and demographic and other information

Date Published: January 1, 2014