Realignment continues to be a prominent issue in the state of California. Each county deals with its own unique obstacles in implementing AB 109, avoiding the overcrowding that precipitated the Supreme Court ruling against the state in the first place and ensuring that those who are released don’t find their way back behind bars. Many counties still struggle to reduce jail crowding, implement effective community programs, and gather data to know what is effective and what is not. The issues by county vary depending on demographics, services and data capacity, local economy, available funds,and the community views of public safety and rehabilitation.
The recognition that realignment is, by nature, a local issue is a vital one. It’s this understanding that is driving the Partnership for Community Excellence (PCE) to reach out to several small groups of counties about coming together to work on a specific challenges or opportunity they all share.
“Some counties are focused on building jails, others are focused on alternatives to jail such as pretrial programs, and yet others are doing both to avoid the need for yet another new jail in a few years. Others resolved these issues some time ago and are talking about social impact bonds, a very new and innovative public private partnership,” said Sharon Aungst, Director of the PCE.
“We hope to support several convening where counties can learn from experts and each other to develop local cost-effective strategies and follow-up technical assistance.
Yet despite the local focus, big pictures issues that affect everyone involved with realignment still persist. As the PCE moves toward its May 14th webinar with Matt Cate to discuss county realignment issues and how to achieve long term success, here are some of the big picture issues we are tracking:
1. How is new jail construction funded? As the law stands now, $300 million from the General Fund is allocated to renovate, improve or expand infrastructure capacity at existing jail facilities. Existing law authorizes the funds to be used for specified other purposes, including for study and acquisition of options to purchase real property for reentry facilities, as specified. SB 1022, a currently proposed piece of legislation, would instead authorize construction of new (or renovate existing) housing units, support buildings, programming space and any necessary ancillary improvements in order to add capacity and provide medical, dental, and mental health treatment or housing to inmates. It would specify the facilities and projects for which funds may be used. The bill would revise the maximum amount of costs authorized for the design and construction of the projects specified above and delete the provisions authorizing the department to acquire land, design, construct, and renovate reentry program facilities.
2. What are some solutions to overcrowding? Overcrowding, which AB 109 was implemented to relieve at the state level, is trickling down to the counties, with each in varying states of preparedness to cope. Pretrial detainees and candidates for bail continue to be a source of relief in the overcrowding realm as well. Those counties which put an early emphasis on whittling down that population are seeing much less stress placed on the system. The lack of use of a risk assessment by some county jails to determine who is released from jail continues to be an issue in some counties, but not all. Ankle bracelets look to play a large role in keeping those who receive an early release on the grid. The PCE brought attention to the use of pretrial alternatives in its report and has assisted several groups, such as The Little Hoover Commission, in understanding the ways that pretrial services programs can effectively reduce jail crowding. Several of PCE’s collaboratives, such as the Crime and Justice Institute and Californians for Safety and Justice are providing technical assistance to counties around pretrial services. The report highlights pretrial programs that have been very successful in counties such as Santa Cruz, Yolo and San Francisco.
3. We still aren’t tracking AB 109 data? Exactly how the billions funneled to counties for realignment are being spent is a question being asked by many. The PCE testified recently regarding the lack of any state funding for research and the problems researchers, evaluators, local law enforcement and others are having in accessing realignment data. There’s basically no way to tell what’s working and what’s not except in those counties that are doing it voluntarily. The Daily Democrat bluntly asks “What does realignment success look like?” They quote California Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard as admitting that the state has yet to define what that is.