Twitter Chat With the CBP on Corrections Spending: July 22

July 18, 2014

California’s new state budget continues the persistent trend of higher state spending on corrections, despite a declining crime rate and an anticipated drop in the state prison population in the coming years. New funding has been made available for jail construction, even though various alternatives to incarceration could promote public safety and would be more cost-effective. And continued growth in corrections spending means fewer resources available for investing in education, child care, job training, and other state priorities.

As part of an ongoing series of Twitter chats hosted by Californians for Safety and Justice, CBP Policy Analyst Selena Teji next week will discuss trends in corrections spending and criminal justice policy, including how state leaders might better align budget choices with the needs of California’s families and communities. The Twitter chat will take place Tuesday, July 22, from noon to 1 p.m PDT. You can follow the discussion — and offer questions and comments — via the #SchoolsNotPrisons hashtag. We hope you can join us for this timely discussion.

— Steven Bliss

Does California Need More Jail Construction Funding?

May 27, 2014

Last week the Assembly budget subcommittee on public safety approved the Governor’s proposal to provide $500 million in lease-revenue bond financing for the construction of county jails. These funds would be distributed through a competitive grant process that requires a 10 percent county contribution. Under the Governor’s proposal, these funds could be used to improve or replace current facilities and to build space that would house rehabilitative services, such as classrooms and mental health treatment space. These dollars would supplement $1.7 billion that state policymakers have already allocated to jail construction since 2007.

However, it’s unclear that counties need additional funding to build or expand jails. Experts have identified several cost-effective alternatives to incarceration that would relieve jail overcrowding and reduce the need for further construction, but not all counties are fully using these alternatives. For example, roughly two-thirds of people in jail are not serving sentences — in fact they may be innocent of any crime — but rather are being detained prior to their trials, often because they cannot afford bail. Alternatives to incarceration for these individuals — such as community-based supervision and day reporting centers — would maintain public safety, avoid unnecessary jail construction, and have far lower long-term operational costs. As the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has noted, “counties that have not employed such tools may not necessarily need state funds for jail construction to address their jail capacity needs.”

The Governor has not yet substantiated the need for additional jail construction funds beyond what has been previously allocated. Members of the Senate budget subcommittee on public safety — in contrast to their Assembly colleagues — recently voted to reject the Governor’s proposal and approved an alternate plan that calls for using the lease-revenue bonds to finance a broader range of county projects, including jails, transitional housing, and mental health treatment facilities.

As the Legislature works with the Governor to finalize the 2014-15 budget, closer scrutiny of the state’s continued jail construction spending is critical. Given the Administration’s recognition that community-based support systems provide the best opportunity to reduce low-level crime, the state may be better able to improve public safety by providing community-based substance use disorder treatment as well as reinvesting in critical services and systems that are still operating at severely diminished levels, such as child care and higher education.

— Selena Teji

Bending the Prison Cost Curve

March 26, 2014

Budgets, as we like to say at the CBP, are not just about dollars and cents. At a fundamental level, budgets express our values and priorities as a state. The choices we make through the state budget process help determine whether California is improving outcomes for families and communities and investing in policies that promote broadly shared prosperity. While California has made some major progress in this regard — the state’s robust implementation of federal health care reform is a prime example — in other ways we’ve fallen short.

One way in which we’ve clearly missed the mark is illustrated by the chart below. Under the Governor’s proposed spending plan for 2014-15, California is expected to spend more than $62,000 on each prison inmate — nearly 90 percent higher than in 1994-95, after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, our state is expected to spend slightly less than $9,200 for each K-12 student in 2014-15 — a level that reflects a marked improvement relative to recent years, but which is up by only 30 percent since 1994-95, after adjusting for inflation. In other words, over the past two decades spending per prisoner in California has increased nearly three times faster than spending per K-12 student.

California can do better. “Bending the prison cost curve” — that is, curtailing the persistent trend of rising state prison spending — is a challenging but necessary undertaking that deserves policymakers’ sustained attention. Making progress toward this goal would free up state dollars that could be redirected from the correctional system to essential state priorities in the years ahead.

— Scott Graves

Don’t Miss These Workshops on Housing, School Funding, State Corrections and Other Timely Topics

February 26, 2014

This week is your last chance to register in advance for the CBP’s 2014 annual conferenceRaising the Bar: How Smart Policy Choices Can Create Shared Prosperity in California, on March 6 in Sacramento. Reserve your spot and join over 300 individuals who will be with us for a discussion of how California can best reinvest in vital public services, maintain fiscal health, and promote broad economic growth.

Plenary sessions will examine California’s shifting electoral profile, the social and policy challenges posed by high poverty and growing inequality, and the latest on the 2014 state budget debate. In addition, Raising the Bar will feature a wide range of workshops in which expert panelists will discuss pressing issues facing California today. Some of our 2014 conference workshops include:

Laying the Foundation: How Can State Policy and Investments Best Promote Access to Affordable Housing?
Panelists will discuss what types of state policies and funding approaches might help address the tremendous need for affordable housing, what proposals are expected to be in play this year, and how California can build toward a long-term framework for supporting affordable housing and strong, economically vibrant communities. With Lisa Bates, deputy director, California Department of Housing and Community Development; Doug Shoemaker, president, Mercy Housing California; and Mark Stivers, consultant, Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

Curbing the Prison Pipeline: Options for Reducing California’s Prison Population While Improving Public Safety
California has made significant strides in reducing the state prison population in recent years, but still needs to cut the prison population by several thousand additional inmates by early 2016 in order to comply with a federal court mandate. What approaches are needed to further reduce the number of inmates in ways consistent with public safety? And how are counties adjusting to their new responsibilities for managing — and rehabilitating — low-level offenders? With Lenore Anderson, executive director, Californians for Safety and Justice; Michael Daly, president, Chief Probation Officers of California and chief probation officer, Marin County; and Karren Lane, prevention network director, Community Coalition.

California’s New School Finance System: Where We Are, What Comes Next, and Why Stakeholder Involvement Is Essential to Improve Education for Disadvantaged Students
Last year, state policymakers restructured California’s education finance system in an effort to make it more transparent, rational, and equitable. This workshop will look at the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), including the spending regulations recently approved by the State Board of Education, and why local stakeholder involvement will be key to ensuring that LCFF dollars go to support disadvantaged students. With Brooks Allen, deputy policy director and assistant legal counsel, State Board of Education; Oscar E. Cruz, president and chief executive officer, Families In Schools; and Dr. Christine Lizardi Frazier, superintendent of schools, Kern County.

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Other workshop topics at our 2014 conference will include public pensions, “horizontal integration” in social services, career education, and many more. For full event details and to register, visit this event page. We’ll look forward to seeing you on March 6!

— Steven Bliss

State Leaders Agree to Boost Prison Capacity — but Hope It Won’t Be Needed

September 11, 2013

California is fast approaching a December 31 deadline set by a three-judge federal court to reduce the state prison population to 137.5 percent of the system’s capacity, a level equal to about 112,000 inmates. Currently, state prisons house nearly 120,000 inmates — 147 percent of capacity and roughly 8,000 inmates above the court-imposed limit. While California has made great strides in reducing the number of prisoners — state prisons held well over 160,000 inmates just six years ago — additional measures will be needed to bring the state into compliance with the judges’ order, which dates to August 2009. (A CBP status report on the court order and subsequent developments can be found here.)

Governor Brown and legislative leaders spent the last couple of weeks debating what steps California should take to further reduce the prison population in accordance with the court order. Under a compromise announced this past Monday, the state will shift thousands of prisoners to private lockups in and outside of California this year — at a cost of $315 million — unless the court grants the state’s request for more time to meet the prison population cap. If California were to receive such a reprieve, the state would either drop or scale back the plan to contract for beds in private facilities, depending on how much relief the court decided to grant. This, in turn, would free up some or all of the state funds that would have gone toward boosting prison capacity. The first $75 million of freed-up funds would be placed in a new “Recidivism Reduction Fund” to be used for unspecified “activities designed to reduce the state’s prison population.” Half of any additional savings would go to the new recidivism fund, and the other half would go back to the state General Fund. In addition, the compromise increases funding for an existing state program that financially rewards counties for reducing the number of offenders who are sent to prison after failing on probation, either by committing a new crime or violating the terms of their local supervision. Finally, the compromise requires the Administration to issue a report, by April 1, 2014, that examines prison capacity, recidivism rates, and other issues, and recommends “balanced solutions that are cost effective and protect public safety.”

One of the primary goals of the compromise is to avoid the early release of prison inmates. The Governor and legislative leaders unanimously oppose releasing prisoners early, even though the court — based on expert testimony — concluded that reducing inmates’ sentences would not jeopardize public safety. Early release is a possibility because the court’s most recent order, issued on June 20, outlined a specific set of actions — including early release — that California must take to come down to the population cap by the December 31 deadline. For example, the June 20 order requires California to expand “good-time” credits that inmates may earn — a change that would allow thousands of inmates to leave prison earlier than expected. The order also includes a contingency measure requiring the early release of “low-risk” prisoners if the December 31 population target would not otherwise be met. Low-risk inmates are defined as those “who are unlikely to reoffend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release.” Presumably, the state would avoid the need to release any inmates early if it instead shifted prisoners to private lockups, the centerpiece of the compromise plan.

The linchpin of this compromise — for those who are wary of using limited state dollars to increase prison capacity — is the prospect that the court will extend the deadline for meeting the population cap. In theory, this would give the state additional time to implement as-yet-unspecified long-term solutions to prison overcrowding. However, it’s highly uncertain that the court would agree to such an extension. In their June 20 order, the judges not only voiced frustration that state officials had “consistently sought to delay the implementation” of the court’s population cap, but also argued the state had “no excuse for failing to meet the 137.5% requirement on December 31, 2013 … no matter what unexpected misfortunes arise.” If the court rejects the state’s request for more time, California would end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars to boost prison capacity, a solution that Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg previously called “neither sustainable nor fiscally responsible.” Such an outcome would run counter to Californians’ view that the corrections budget is already too large and needs to be downsized. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of Californians surveyed in 2011 supported cuts to “prisons and corrections” to help balance the state budget, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

While California’s path forward on prison overcrowding remains uncertain, it is heartening that state policymakers recognize the need to put in place durable solutions to the crisis. We hope that the debate leading up to the compromise signals the beginning of a robust conversation among Californians and their elected officials about the future of corrections policy in the Golden State.

— Scott Graves