Bureaucratic hurdles and the Great Recession are being blamed for a purportedly dire lack of jail space in California, where the state's "realignment" law has forced overcrowded prisons to transfer low-level offenders to the custody of county facilities.
California lawmakers actually approved $1.2 billion in funding for statewide jail construction under Assembly Bill 900 (AB900) in 2007, four years ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 decision to mandate a reduction of California's prison population.
But as of September 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times, only Madera County—just north of Fresno, in the state's central basin—had built new jail space. Calaveras County, about 50 miles east of San Francisco, was expected to complete construction of a new jail by the end of 2013, but projects in larger counties—including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside—are not expected to be finished until at least 2018.
The Sacramento Bee reported that the state struggled to sell construction bonds during the recession and counties could not muster enough in matching funds to pay for construction or for workers to operate expanded jails.
Meanwhile, the state gave counties an 80-page manual on applying for the jail construction funds, which included cumbersome requirements for verifying property ownership, revenue streams and jail designs.
And multiple state agencies—including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Public Works Board, the Department of Finance and the Board of State and Community Corrections—have been involved in deciding who is awarded the funding.
"The red tape is unbelievable. It's not an easy process," said Manuel Perez, corrections director for Madera County, which overcame the bureaucracy and expanded its jail by 144 beds at a cost of $30 million.
There was also a delay in AB900 funding because the regulations gave priority to counties that agreed to build halfway houses with the money. But community opposition to the halfway houses forced 13 counties that originally committed to building them to rescind those applications and submit new ones, according to the state's Legislative Analyst's Office.
Since the Supreme Court's decision, CDCR—under Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's criminal justice realignment plan—had reduced its population by about 25,000 prisoners by last fall, mainly by sending minor offenders to jail instead of prison. The state was required to reduce the prison population by another 8,000 prisoners by the end of 2013, with many of them being transferred to county jails under a $315 million plan Brown proposed in August.
Almost all of the original funding for AB900 has been earmarked for projects in 22 California counties for 10,894 new jail beds. The state has since authorized another $500 million to construct local correctional facilities, and although much of that funding will also help provide more mental health and rehabilitation services, Prison Law Office Director Donald Specter opposes adding more jail beds to the total.
"Some of the jails are old and antiquated and need to be closed," Specter acknowledged, adding some improvements are needed at county jails.
But fewer people need to be detained before trial, he said, and more people should be given alternatives to incarceration, including GPS monitoring.
Sources: www.latimes.comf www.sacbee.com
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