Local Prison Population Increases 12% Since Realignment

Recently the state auditor’s office published its report of “high-risk,” low-accountability areas of state operations, released every other year. This year, realignment and corrections are evaluated separately.

REALIGNMENT

County-assistance funds have doubled yearly since implementation, surpassing one billion next year. The 2012-13 budget of $5.9 billion is likely to rise. Proposition 30 partially rerouted fees and sales taxes to fund these county projects, but if the money is used ineffectively, the expense achieves nothing.

According to the report, “the State has a history of using short-term solutions to close budget gaps,” using debt increases, creative transfers and deferred expenses to “push the problem out to future years.” Even after a revenue boost coupled with cuts achieved the first state surplus in years, 37 percent or $6.1 billion in debt was not erased, but simply delayed until next year, including long-term projects like Prop 98 funding for K-12 education.

In September 2012, counties were overwhelmingly opting for lock-up expansion over sustainable behavior correction. 

The ACLU described inconsistent accountability, a problem that has not improved; the auditor describes a mixture of data collection standards. Even the Board of State and Community Corrections, created specifically for the synthesis of all data submissions, prepares each county presentation in a slightly different format. This patchwork keeps the state and many counties in the dark about which strategies work. Even when collected, it takes up to a year to have results for analysis.

The core of realignment’s population reduction is transferring thousands of non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual cases to county responsibility through detention and/or supervision. Incarceration has changed more than decreased. In realignment’s first year, the average daily jail population increased 12 percent to 81,000, exceeding its target by 4,000.

Early release due to lack of space increased by 13 percent. According to the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, county jails were never built or staffed to accommodate long sentences, thorough health care or targeted counseling, leaving underprepared counties to manage crises without much data guidance.

CORRECTIONS

In 2006, the state auditor identified overcrowded prisons, poor health care, and inconsistent leadership as justification for the CDCR’s “high-risk” status. Seven years later, progress on all three has been made.

Since a federal receiver assumed control of state prison health care in 2006, overall adequate health care has increased from 72 to 87 percent — just above the “high adherence to standards” mark. Health costs have correspondingly increased from $841 million in 2006 to $1.5 billion.

The state has argued (for more than a year) that progress merits relinquishing control, but reviewers continue reporting incomplete improvements. The receiver himself expressed doubts about sustainability; ten drafted authority delegations were postponed this summer indefinitely after the state’s unwieldy response to the Valley Fever. Until health expense is built in, there’s no guarantee improvements are permanent. 

In realignment's first year, the average daily jail population increased 12 percent to 81,000, exceeding its target by 4,000.
California State Auditor

In 2011, CDCR’s senior staff shortage was “high-risk.” Today, six filled positions are still “acting,” warden vacancies increased slightly, and the state continues to search for probational and correctional staff. Having eliminated their succession planning and senior training units, there is no written plan to formally address this “lack of organizational stability.”

After the initial population reduction plateaued last fall, the state missed one of four court-ordered population benchmarks, spaced for sustainability. In January, the final benchmark was moved from June to December, but when the state repeatedly attempted another extension they were rejected.

Last month, the legislature passed a bill presenting the panel with a choice between deadline compliance through new private prisons, or a deadline extension tied to recidivism decreases. Unexpectedly, the judges granted a month-long extension, requesting a delay of the prisons while developing the recidivism-reducers. This prompted a terse note from the governor, who did not support the latter.