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New Report Details California Counties’ “AB 109” Correctional Priorities

A new report issued by Stanford University explores how California Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109), also known as the “realignment bill,” has shifted control of local correction activities to county agencies from the state.  Funded by state block grants, the bill was designed in part to relieve serious overcrowding of California’s prisons.  The decentralization of correctional activities had been proposed prior to but was accelerated by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Plata, which mandated an end to systemic overcrowding of the state’s prison system by the release of at least 40,000 prisoners.

The funding changes brought about by the realignment bill will bring about the distribution of $4.4 billion in state monies to California counties by 2016-2017, giving local governments a chance to tailor their correctional activities to suit their particularized needs, and perhaps give them an opportunity to reduce recidivism.

Stanford University’s Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) prepared the report as part of its ongoing study of the effects of the legislatively-instituted realignment of the California criminal justice system.

The 98-page SCJC study, entitled, “Follow the Money: How California Counties are Spending their Public Safety Realignment Fund,” details the transition of correctional funding from a one-size-fits-all state mindset to the individualized needs of local communities, and provided data to determine whether the money was spent for additional sheriff’s personnel and incarceration, or for community corrections functions more oriented to rehabilitation and reentry-friendly activities.  The only requirement imposed by the state on the use of the block-grant funds was that it be spent on some form of “community-based” program, with the specifics left to each unit of local government.

According to the study, “Some (counties) are expanding offender treatment capacities, while others are shoring up enforcement and control apparatus.”  The SCLC compares and contrasts the pre-AB 109 and post-AB 109 spending patterns of these counties and the occasional shift of priorities in the past few years as more funds have been provided for local programs.  They then attempt to draw conclusions regarding the “political, economic, and criminal justice related factors that may explain higher AB 109 spending on enforcement or higher spending on treatment, relative to other counties.”

The study reaches the following conclusion: “Our analysis shows that counties that elect to allocate more AB 109 funds to enforcement and control generally appear to be responding to local criminal justice needs, including high crime rates, a shortage of law enforcement personnel, and a history preference for using prison to punish drug offenders, counties that favor a greater investment in offender treatment and services, meanwhile, are typified by strong electoral support for the sheriff and relatively under-funded district attorneys and probation departments.”

See: “Follow the Money:  How California Counties are Spending their Public Safety Realignment Fund,” Sanford University Criminal Justice Center, 2014.

See also: “Sentencing Law and Policy,” by Jeffrey Lin and Joan Petersilia, Stanford University, 2014.

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