This week in Realignment: July 12, 2013

150 150 Christopher Nelson

This week, we have seen a smattering of news come across the realignment airwaves. The first story deals with an item of grave importance that isn’t getting nearly enough attention in the wake of the latest three judge panel ruling and how California plans to comply.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is set to be a massive boon for California jails dealing with the generally poor health and lack of health insurance among its inmate population. It will also mean that these inmates will have health insurance when they leave jail and can access services such as substance use disorder treatment that will allow them to remain in the community and out of jail.  

The Partnership for Community Excellent (PCE) has developed a two-page summary of the benefits of enrolling offenders in Medi-Cal. It is offering regional convenings to counties to develop strategies for leveraging the new Medi-Cal funding (100 percent reimbursement for 3 years for newly eligible persons) with AB 109 and other realignment funding. There is something in this for everyone – offenders get more services, the behavioral health services provided will help keep former inmates from reoffending, which in turn increases public safety. And counties will save money in the process.

HealthyCal explains it as such:

According to a report from Community Oriented Correctional Health Services, jail inmates are disproportionally young, male, people of color with low incomes. They also have a high rate of health problems, including substance abuse and mental health disorders. Additionally, they say, eighty percent of detainees with a chronic medical condition did not receive treatment in the community before their arrest.

This same report indicated that most detainees – 90 percent – have no health insurance when they leave jail.

Marcus Dawal, Division Director of the Alameda County Probation Department, said that enrolling inmates and educating them about available resources helps with the bigger picture.

“If somebody is stabilized and their basic needs are met, they are more inclined to have stability and that helps them as far as having the tools that they need to live a law-abiding life and be productive and secure employment,” he said.

But there is far less conversation on this topic compared to the level of chatter on jail expansion this past week. 

Kings County is one preparing to expand. LA County faces more cost than any other county for expansion, with estimates running over $1.6 billion for the project. Ruling expansion out clearly isn’t prudent, but exhausting all other options first is the only true model for success. Data must be used and incareration alternatives must be explored.

And of course, there are still the naysayers and those continuing to try and make realignment a political wedge issue

But for every voice who expresses doubts, there are those who approach the topic with an even hand, weighing both sides of the issue using their data and the evidence base and continuing to dispel the common myths that were perpetuated early on about rampant release of state prisoners into local communities.

And for those looking to get some raw data on the jail expansions themselves, the California Board of State and Community Corrections provides links to information on state funding for jail construction, which is where funding for jail expansions is coming from.

The bottom line: improving the space that exists is paramount to creating more space. If all options to incarceration aren’t first exhausted, then the problems that exist now will only persist later.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson