‘Counties are incarcerating the vast majority of newly sentenced felons’
Prison realignment is compounding overcrowding at California’s county jails, and is causing significant changes in who is incarcerated and for how long.
Those are the major conclusions of a nine-page report issued in 2012 by the Public Policy Institute of California, and independent research organization.
Realignment was Gov. Jerry Brown’s response to court orders to reduce prison overcrowding. It was enacted by the Legislature with passage of AB109.
“California has given its counties enormous new responsibilities for corrections— including authority over many new types of felony offenders and parolees. Rather than go to state prison, these offenders now go to county jail or receive an alternative sanction,” the report notes.
“In the first few months of realignment, California’s jail population increased noticeably— but many jails were already facing capacity concerns. We find that some offenders who would have been incarcerated prior to realignment are now either not locked up or are not spending as much time in jail. Going forward, counties will need to consider a wide variety of approaches for handling their capacity concerns and their expanded offender populations.”
The report concludes, “California’s county jails faced serious capacity constraints even before realignment began—and in spite of a declining jail population. It now appears that realignment will add substantial pressures and force counties to make some difficult decisions.”
“Evidence from the first three months of realignment suggests that, as expected, counties are incarcerating the vast majority of newly sentenced felons. But inmates awaiting or on trial are less likely now than they were before realignment to be incarcerated — or they are being incarcerated for shorter periods of time,” the report says. “Parole or PRCS technical violators are also less likely to spend time behind bars—and may even spend no time at all.”
“The effect of these changes on public safety in the state will be among the most consequential—and watched—outcomes of realignment,” the report adds.
The courts ordered the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to reduce its population down to 137.5 percent of designed capacity. The court’s decision was based on findings that California state prison’s mental and medical health care suffered severely due to the overcrowding of prison inmates, which resulted in violating their constitutional rights.
According to county jail ADP, before AB 109 realignment, county jail population had been on the decline. Since the realignment, county jail’s ADP appears to have increased by 4,000 inmates.
Although current data does not provide specific detail on how the shift from prisons to county jails population was achieved, the data does show that in the first three months of realignment, there was a significant decrease of felons in prisons and an increase of offenders in county jails.
Also, it was found that the daily county jail population increases by one inmate for every three felons who are no longer housed in prison.
In 2007, AB 900 earmarked $1.2 billion in state matching funds for county jail expansions. In June of this year, SB1022 made $500 million in state funds (with a county match of 10 percent) available to counties for jail construction. Nevertheless, California county jails are still saying that they are overwhelmed and in need of more funds to accommodate the overflow of inmates.
Options the report suggests to relieve jail crowding include releasing certain pretrial inmates who can not make bail, or release an inmate on his or her own recognizance. Furthermore, counties can also implement alternatives to jail time: such as inmates attending day reporting centers; substance abuse treatment programs; work release or restorative justice programs; or home detention with electronic monitoring.