California is not providing counties enough funding to incarcerate and rehabilitate offenders it has sent to local jails and probation offices in the last two years, criminal justice advocates and officials said Wednesday.
Under a 2011 state law known as realignment, lower-level offenders are being sentenced to county jail instead of state prison. County probation departments, rather than state parole agents, are charged with watching offenders after they have been released from prison.
Much of the more than $1 billion in annual state funding for the law has gone toward jail costs. Still, many county jails have been forced to release inmates because officials say they lack enough space to meet the increased demands from the 2011 law. Counties also lack funding to provide enough rehabilitation, officials said Wednesday at the Sacramento Press Club.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the number of incarcerations under the law in his jail, more than 150 at any given time, is higher than the state estimated when the law passed. Sentences under the law are often long – as high as 22 years for a repeat drug dealer – and the jail was built to handle people for sentences no longer than a year, he said.
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His jail is now filled with people with felony arrests and convictions, and no one with a misdemeanor record.
“We’re releasing people who are the best of the worst, and their risk assessments are high,” Brown said.
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman at the Department of Finance, said Gov. Jerry Brown has helped the counties since he got the 2011 passed. He successfully lobbied for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing funding for realignment, something county leaders previously said was essential. The governor has also earmarked a number of other funds for county programs, while not specifically for realignment, can be used to address similar needs for mental health and drug treatment, Palmer said.
Nina Salarno Ashford of Crime Victims United likened the 2011 law to “building a plane without knowing how to fly it.” Like other speakers, she said there hasn’t been a good analysis of what’s working and what isn’t. She said there have been some horrific crimes committed due to realignment, such as a murder committed by a Fresno man who was released from jail because of crowding in 2011.
Michele Scray Brown, chief probation officer of San Bernardino County, said she worries about the demands on the county jail, which has had one of the state’s highest rates of releases due to capacity restrictions.
“Some of the people are extremely high risk,” she said. “Some of the people are dangerous.”
Despite their concerns about the law so far, participants agreed that counties are in a better position to rehabilitate offenders – if they get enough money. Offenders are more likely to improve in their own communities, they said.