Indio, California – In this desert city halfway between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, a small monument to the state’s prison downsizing experiment is materializing in a shopping center storefront, where former felons will soon have access to health screenings, substance-abuse treatment, job training, therapy, and probation officers who look and sound more like social workers than law enforcement officials.
Less than a mile away, a far more ambitious project is taking shape. Across from the local courthouse, workers will soon break ground on a massive expansion of a county jail, a renovation that will ultimately more than quadruple its size from 353 to 1,626 beds. It’s the first of several jail expansions planned in Riverside County, where the local Sheriff has called for 10,000 new jail beds in the next thirteen years.
Both projects are part of the effort California officials call “realignment” — a sweeping initiative to reduce the overcrowding of state prisons by turning over responsibility for non-violent offenders to the counties from which they came.