The PCE Realignment Digest: Jan 7 – Jan 11, 2013

150 150 Sharon Aungst & Danielle Williams

Without further ado, we dive into the big issues bubbling to the top in the Realignment arena in California in the past week:

Governor challenges Federal oversight of Prisons

With the impending court imposed deadline to reduce the state’s prison population to 110,000 in June, Governor Brown made a bold request for the Federal Courts remove the state’s prison population cap and federal oversight of inmate health care. The Governor argues that California has done its part in reducing prison overcrowding and improving medical care. 

Realignment and Crime

A few stories this week addressed perceived changes in the crime rate after Realignment. One article discusses a drop in crime amid prison Realignment while another discusses how Realignment has sparked a crime spree. How do we make sense of contrasting story lines? A report  found that in 2011 California’s violent crime rate was at its lowest since 1967. It also reports that while violent crime continues to decrease, property crime may be on the rise. While the 2011 data can’t tell us much about the crime rate in 2012, the 2012 data reported from Los Angeles this week shows a hefty decrease in crime –  gang crimes fell 10.5 percent and violent crimes 8.2 percent. The 2011 statewide data only includes 3 months of early realignment while the 2012 LA data includes 12 months. Additionally, a recent CJCJ review found that new imprisonments for murder, robbery, rape and most sex offenses showed modest declines in the first 3 quarters of 2012, with assaults slightly increasing. 

Although some may jump to judgment and say “these data show that realignment is reducing crime”, a year of statewide data or from one county, albeit a very large county, is hardly a confirmed trend. We need to see consistent increases or decreases in crime over time in order to declare a trend. And, if we see a trend, determining the cause of this trend is no easy task. Many variables impact crime rate including the economy, unemployment and even family life. At the same time, a PPIC analysis found that, based on the last two years of statewide data, property crime may be rising. There are many anecdotal reports of an increase in property crime as well.  Will this be a pattern for the entire state or will rates vary by jurisdiction?  Stay tuned as we continue to track the analyses of crime rates, especially the relationship between realignment and crime rates. 

Impact of Governor’s Budget on Community Corrections

This week’s news coverage of the Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget highlighted developments with implications for Realignment. In the proposed budget, incentive funding for counties that reduce recidivism to state prisons was reduced by $139 million. This funding came from SB 678, which established performance-based funding for counties to support evidence-based practices for adult felon probation supervision. Counties that reduce recidivism receive a portion of state General Fund savings in reducing the number of felony probationers going to state prison.  The change is likely motivated by Realignment which shifted responsibility for low level offenders and parole violators to counties, thus significantly reducing the number of offenders being sent to prison. 

A number of Probation Departments have successfully reduced recidivism under SB 678. In 2010, Probation Departments diverted over 6,000 offenders from going to state prison without having an adverse impact on California’s crime rate. In 2012, the Administrative Office of the Courts calculated that county probation departments kept 9,500 felons out of prison, including 3,980 in Los Angeles. 

These early trends suggest that California has successfully improved probation outcomes while reducing the state’s expenditures on prisons. The next crucial step is to examine how crime rates have changed for people on probation throughout the state. The AOC is currently gathering these data and, in a report expected in early 2013, will link the data to information on how counties are improving their practices to determine the overall impact of the performance incentive program on public safety. While SB 678 funding is reduced for now, it would be smart for the State to bring back some form of performance-based funding for those counties that are smart in reducing crime (and commitments to prison) and recidivism.

The Governor’s proposed budget also includes an expansion of Medi-Cal by increasing enrollment and expanding coverage. California has now received preliminary approval to operate a state-run health insurance Exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These two decisions put us on the path to increasing the number of offenders receiving health care services, particularly substance use disorder treatment, while taking advantage of the substantial federal funding that comes with ACA. Currently California receives 50 percent matching funds for Medi-Cal services provided to eligible offenders, while counties pay out of pocket for many offenders who are not eligible for Medi-Cal but need substance use disorder treatment. Others still go without treatment at all.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy released a report last month, Chemical Dependency Treatment for Offenders: a Review of the Evidence and Benefit-Cost Findings, which found that the substance use disorder treatment programs that met their criteria for review were effective and reduced recidivism by 4 percent and 9 percent. They also found the benefits exceeded the costs, sometimes substantially, for all programs reviewed.

This leads us to believe that expanding the number of offenders receiving substance use disorder treatment could be a win/win for all Californians. We can increase the number of offenders receiving substance use disorder treatment, while reducing recidivism and saving money. The next challenge is how to build capacity to meet the need – there are not enough providers. This is no easy task and will require investment from both the State and counties in order to take full advantage of this opportunity.  

Realignment Digest Articles

California Challenges Federal Oversight of Prisons
The Forum, with Michael Krasney featuring Joan Petersilia, Terri McDonald, and Rebekah Evenson

Gov. Brown wants the Supreme Court out of California prisons
By Christopher Nelson, Partnership for Community Excellence Blog

Brown on Prisons: the Right Policy and Good Politics
By Joel Fox, Fox and Hounds

With California prison overcrowding, Jerry Brown still traversing a minefield
By Dan Walters, SacBee

California challenges feds’ inmate population cap
By Don Thompson, Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown calls on feds to give up oversight of prisons
By Paige St John, Los Angeles Times

Realignment and Crime

Overall Calif. crime drops amid prison realignment
By Albert Sabate, Univision

Prison realignment sparks crime spree
By Troy Anderson, CalWatchdog

Crime Trends in California
By Magnus Lofstrom, Public Policy Institute of California

One Year into Realignment: Progress Stalls, Stronger Incentives Needed
By Mike Males, Ph.D., Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Impact of Governor’s Budget on Community Corrections

County probation departments lose incentive funds
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown commits to major Medi-Cal expansion
By Michael Mishak, Los Angeles Times

Cost Benefit Analysis

Chemical Dependency Treatment for Offenders: A Review of the Evidence and Benefit-Cost Findings
By Elizabeth Drake


Sharon Aungst & Danielle Williams

All stories by: Sharon Aungst & Danielle Williams