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Public Safety Realignment
Weak State and County Oversight Does Not Ensure That Funds Are Spent Effectively

Report Number: 2020-102



Beginning in 2011, to address a federal mandate to alleviate state prison overcrowding and help lower the State’s incarceration costs, the Legislature enacted so‑called realignment laws that transferred—or realigned—the responsibility for managing certain offenders from the State to counties. The U.S. Supreme Court found that overcrowding in California prisons created unsafe and unsanitary conditions, promoted unrest and violence, and caused latent mental illnesses among prisoners to worsen.Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493 (2011).  As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population from almost double its capacity to less than 140 percent of its prisons’ designed capacity within two years. The U.S. Supreme Court gave the State flexibility in how it would achieve the reduction, noting that there were various available methods of reducing overcrowding that would have little or no impact on public safety. These methods included providing inmates with time credits for good behavior and diverting low‑risk offenders to community programs. California chose to address some of the overcrowding by sentencing certain types of felons, who previously would have served their time in state prison, to county jails through a complex package of legislative measures commonly referred to as public safety realignment, here referred to simply as realignment. The State expected realignment to lead to lower incarceration and recidivism rates—the rate at which individuals relapse by committing crimes and return to the criminal justice system—and lower state costs.

Realignment shifted the responsibility for offenders sentenced for nonviolent, nonserious offenses and for non‑sex offenders from the State to local jurisdictions. State law defines 23 offenses as violent crimes, such as murder and rape, and considers other crimes nonviolent. However, despite the implication that nonviolent, nonserious, non‑sex offenders whom the State has moved to county facilities under realignment have committed lesser crimes, some of these offenders may be very dangerous. According to officials at all three of the counties we reviewed, some realigned inmates have violent criminal histories, and other offenders’ convictions were the results of plea bargains for lesser charges than the crimes for which they were originally accused. For example, a defendant accused of robbery charges may plead guilty to grand theft, which is not a violent offense. Hence, although a realigned inmate’s current conviction may be for a nonviolent, nonserious, non‑sexual offense, the inmate may have a prior criminal history that involves more serious or violent felony offenses. We describe the impact that these inmates may have on county jails in Chapter 1.

Under realignment, counties assumed many of the State’s former responsibilities for realigned inmates and individuals on probation. For instance, before realignment, state law required county jails to hold only inmates with sentences up to one year, whereas inmates with longer sentences served their time in a state prison. However, under the realignment law, nonviolent, nonserious, non‑sex offenders can now serve up to three years in a county jail for each offense. A court can sentence offenders for multiple crimes but allow them to serve their sentences either concurrently—meaning at the same time—or consecutively, meaning one after the other. As a result, the counties stated that inmates whom the courts order to serve consecutive sentences may spend many years in a county jail. In addition, realignment also transferred the responsibility for postrelease supervision of certain state prison inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to county probation departments. In an effort to reduce recidivism, state law also expresses the legislative intent that counties make educational, rehabilitative, and restorative justice programs available to inmates and individuals on probation.

Allocation and Use of Realignment Funds

The State allocates funds to counties each year to offset their additional public safety costs associated with realignment. Realignment funds constitute a portion of the revenue from state sales tax and vehicle license fees, which vehicle owners pay annually in California. The law allows the State to provide counties an annual guaranteed amount as well as an additional amount that varies from year to year depending on whether funds are available. In fiscal year 2019–20, the State provided a total of $6 billion in public safety realignment funds to California’s counties.

When the State enacted public safety realignment, it consolidated state funding sources that previously existed to fund some of the counties’ public safety services. It established the Local Revenue Fund 2011 in each county for the purpose of public safety and created eight accounts within the fund.State law created a complex account structure for these eight public safety realignment accounts, which include accounts, subaccounts, and special accounts. For the purposes of this audit, we will refer to all of these sources as accounts.  Figure 1 lists the counties’ eight public safety realignment accounts and provides a brief summary of the purpose of each account we reviewed. As Figure 1 shows, we also reviewed two additional accounts related to public safety realignment—the Community Corrections Performance Incentive Fund and the Recidivism Reduction Fund—that the State created after the initial 2011 legislation, for a total of 10 public safety realignment accounts. For example, before 2011, the State gave counties funds to enhance the capacity of county probation departments to provide services to youthful offenders, including mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, housing, and supervision services. After realignment, counties still received this funding, but the State designated it as a part of the Juvenile Justice account. In fact, the State allocates funding to each of the counties into the specific, designated accounts created within the Local Revenue Fund 2011. The Legislature also restricted the counties’ use of funds in the accounts listed in Figure 1 exclusively for public safety services.

Figure 1

The State Distributes Realignment Funds to Counties for Specific Public Safety Purposes

A figure that shows the different public safety realignment accounts through which the State distributes realignment funding

Source: Analysis of state law and budget bills.

* Although the Legislature created these funds after it enacted realignment legislation in 2011, we have included them in our review because they pertain to public safety programs that the counties administer.

The State appropriates realignment funds into the 10 accounts we reviewed for a variety of public safety services that counties provide to individuals both within and outside the criminal justice system through various county departments and local organizations. For example, the State provides funds in the Community Corrections account for county sheriffs to house realigned inmates in jails and for probation departments to supervise certain individuals after the State or counties release them from prison or jail. The State also provides funds for services that can reduce crime and recidivism, such as substance abuse treatment services. Non‑law enforcement agencies, such as counties’ health or social services departments provide most of these services, but may also contract with private organizations or community‑based organizations as well. Counties may contract with private entities, such as private health care companies, to provide mental health services to inmates in their jails. Similarly, counties may contract with community‑based organizations to provide counseling and substance abuse treatment to individuals on probation.

Each county’s Partnership Committee must include representatives …

… from certain positions:

… from the head of specific departments or programs:

… and representatives for:

Source: State law.

County Partnership Committees’ Oversight and Responsibilities

State law provides the framework for each county to establish a Community Corrections Partnership committee (Partnership Committee), which is an advisory body that focuses on implementing realignment, among its other duties. State law requires the Partnership Committees to oversee county efforts to integrate offenders into society successfully. Specifically, it requires Partnership Committees to recommend plans to implement public safety realignment and include recommendations to maximize the effectiveness of resources in programs, such as drug courts, mental health treatment, counseling, education, and work training. Further, state law requires the Partnership Committees to include stakeholders with experience in successfully providing rehabilitative services to people who have been convicted of a criminal offense. The county’s chief probation officer (probation chief) must chair the Partnership Committee, and it must include certain representatives, as the text box shows.

As a part of their responsibilities, Partnership Committees are required to recommend plans for how their respective counties will implement public safety realignment programs and services. Specifically, in 2011, state law required each county’s Partnership Committee to submit a realignment implementation plan to the county’s board of supervisors for approval. This plan could also include recommendations to the county to maximize the effective investment of criminal justice resources, which includes realignment funds for the accounts that we describe in Figure 1. Following approval of these plans by the county board of supervisors, the Partnership Committee continues to make recommendations to the supervisors each year regarding how to spend public safety realignment funding.Los Angeles’s Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee’s Public Safety Realignment Team coordinates the implementation of this plan for Los Angeles, and it reports and advises on public safety matters to the board of supervisors. Because this team carries the same types of responsibilities as Alameda’s and Fresno’s Partnership Committees, we will refer to it as the county’s Partnership Committee in our report.  Provisions of state law and the budget bills each fiscal year indicate that the Legislature intended for the Partnership Committees’ oversight of public safety realignment funds to be an ongoing responsibility. Although state law does not require counties to update their realignment plans periodically, the counties we reviewed have updated their plans at least once since realignment to reflect new public safety goals.

State Guidance and Oversight

In 2012 state law established the Board of State and Community Corrections (Corrections Board) to provide statewide leadership in both the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems. The Corrections Board states that it provides expertise on public safety realignment issues and technical assistance to counties and the Legislature on a wide range of corrections‑related issues. The Corrections Board’s mission includes improving public safety through cost‑effective, promising, evidence‑based strategies and programs, and managing and rehabilitating criminal and juvenile justice populations statewide. The Governor, the Judicial Council of California, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Rules Committee appoint a total of 13 members to the Corrections Board.

The Corrections Board has numerous statutory duties. State law requires it to collect and analyze available county data regarding the implementation of realignment and local jail conditions and to provide guidance to counties by identifying, promoting, and providing technical assistance relating to evidence‑based programs, practices, and promising and innovative projects that are consistent with the mission of the board. State law also requires the Corrections Board to adopt regulations defining minimum standards for correctional facilities regarding health, sanitation, fire and life safety, security, and recreational conditions for inmates. For example, local detention facilities must conduct safety checks consisting of direct visual observation of all inmates at least once an hour and must have a written plan that includes the documentation of these safety checks. The Corrections Board must inspect each local detention facility, including city, county, and juvenile jails, every two years.

The Corrections Board must also submit two reports: an annual report to the Governor and the Legislature regarding counties’ implementation of realignment and a biennial report to the Legislature regarding local jail facilities. Each year, the Corrections Board must report on counties’ implementation of the realignment plans approved by their local Partnership Committees. To compile this report, the Corrections Board surveys county Partnership Committees annually regarding the implementation of their realignment plans and the status of their public safety realignment spending. The Partnership Committees collect information about their county’s public safety realignment efforts and provide it to the Corrections Board. Although state law does not require counties to provide this information, the Corrections Board provides a financial incentive to counties to participate by providing grant funding to those counties that complete the survey.

Every other year, the Corrections Board must provide a report to the Legislature regarding its inspection of local jail facilities. The report must include an assessment of whether counties complied with minimum jail facility and safety standards, along with statistical information, such as average daily populations, including inmate demographics and jail admissions data. The report must also include the estimated cost, if any, to each facility to achieve compliance with the minimum standards set forth in state regulations. For example, if a county has inadequate space or facilities, the Corrections Board must report how much the county estimates it would cost to expand or rebuild its facilities. Unlike an entity such as the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is the state agency specifically authorized to enforce standards and orders prescribed to ensure workplace safety, state law does not give the Corrections Board the authority to enforce its standards and regulations, thereby limiting it to reporting on county finances and jail conditions.

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