This week in Realignment: September 27, 2013

150 150 Christopher Nelson

If one thing is clear from this week’s modest extension granted to Gov. Jerry Brown and the state of California by the three judge panel on moving just under 10,000 more inmates out of state prisons, it’s that they don’t want a stopgap solution that involves sending anyone out of state.

Another month may seem trivial given that the bill Gov. Brown signed the week prior asked for three extra years to implement a long term solution that focuses more on rehabilitation than incarceration.

Some analysts are hopeful that this may be the path toward compromise between all parties (the state, the prisons, the courts and the prisoners who sued California initially over health conditions). Gov. Brown said recently that he refuses to allow inmates to influence corrections policies through litigation, but they must factor into the equation somehow.

This extra month is meant to be something of a negotiation period with the state and the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case that brought all of this about in the first place. It’s necessary as they were not consulted when the initial plan was put together with Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s help, and then signed by Gov. Brown as SB 105.

There are concerns going forward, however. The issue of sheer headcount has been addressed by moving many low-level offenders to county supervision, but has the state prison system’s health care really been improved? This was the crux of the matter and services simply don’t improve by having less people to deal with. The state has made investments prior to and during the implementation of AB 109 in health care, such as a newly opened facility in Stockton, but there is no empirical support for major improvements statewide…yet.

Next is money. There is much talk of the state’s $1 billion surplus, more than two thirds of which would be used in a pinch over two years if the state must reach the 137.5 percent milestone quickly by privately contracting facilities. However the state auditor just sounded the alarm bell by adding realignment to areas at high risk of losing funding. As she puts it:

The State does not currently have access to reliable and meaningful data concerning the realignment. As a result, the impact of realignment cannot be fully evaluated at this time. Even so, initial data indicate that local jails may not have adequate capacity and services to handle the influx of inmates caused by realignment. Until enough time has passed to allow the effectiveness and efficiency of realignment to be evaluated, we will consider it a statewide high-risk issue.

With local jails being a key component to the continued success of AB 109, the lack of any mandate to collect data and track progress in all 58 counties is finally having a negative impact. Data was, is and always will be the only way to show any tangible results from realignment. California Forward’s Partnership for Community Excellence has been advocating strongly for better data collection and analysis infrastructure at the county and state level and research on realignment since the beginning of AB 109.  

Even more concerning in the realm of money, though, is the fact that Gov. Brown signed a $30 million contract with a private facility the day before the latest three judge panel ruling came in. What exactly does this indicate?

On the outside, it may seem  that Gov. Brown isn’t overly interested with the longer term solutions Sen. Steinberg proposed. Or, it could mean that he wanted to get a contract in place before the court told him he couldn’t it.  It was a mere 24 hours before the latest ruling, so signing anything just didn’t make a lot of  sense.

Details on the contract itself are scarce. It’s safe to assume that for $30 million, buildings are being leased and possibly some maintenance is provided. Those in the state government are being very hush hush about any further details on the contract.

So now we wait until January. And if history is any indicator, there will likely be a request for yet another extension as the hand-wringing and negotiations continue. We still have no formalized mandate for data collection and enrollment begins for the ACA on October 1 with some yet not adequately prepared for how to enroll as many offenders as possible.  

Yet with the ACA looming, the state auditor bemoaning a lack of data collection and the three judge panel’s latest ruling still up in the air, Gov. Brown chose to sign a mysterious, albeit somewhat minor, contract with a private prison facility.

It might just be a contingency plan should negotiations fall through, but it raises questions about where priorities lie at one of the more critical junctures in this whole realignment process over the past two years.


Christopher Nelson

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