California State Auditor’s Report Faults Counties for Waste and Poor Oversight of State Funds Used in “Public Safety Realignment”
by Derek Gilna
A report by the California State Auditor found that Los Angles, Alameda, and Fresno counties have failed to properly account for funds provided to them by the state of California to house prisoners transferred from state prisons to relieve overcrowding. The report is entitled, “Public Safety Realignment: Weak State and County Oversight Does Not Ensure Funds are Spent Effectively.”
According to the report, “The counties must do more to mitigate the negative impacts of realignment on their jails and inmates and improve inmate care… the Los Angeles and Fresno county jails, are overcrowded, and Alameda and Fresno lack critical data on inmates’ mental health, and that all three counties have inadequate outdoor and educational facilities for long-term inmates.”
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493, ruled that the state of California had to reduce overcrowding to remedy a violation of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment constitutional rights. This necessitated the state either release large numbers of prisoners or transfer them to less-crowded county jail facilities, referred to as a “realignment.”
According to the report, issued in March of 2021, “We found that realignment contributed to overcrowding at the Fresno and Los Angeles county jails, and these counties have exceeded the State’s jail capacity standards in the years since the State enacted realignment. However, neither county has made adequate efforts to manage its jail population to meet state standards. Along with housing the influx of inmates that resulted from realignment, state law also intended for county jails to make educational, rehabilitative, and exercise opportunities available to all inmates; however, the counties we reviewed struggled to do so.”
Unfortunately, this was not the end of the problems experienced by these jails. “We also found that two counties could do more to identify inmates with mental illnesses to keep their inmates and jail staff safe from violence or injury. Specifically, Alameda’s and Fresno’s mental health providers do not share sufficient information with their jail staff about inmates who have mental illnesses.”
Thus, even though the U.S. Supreme Court intended that the realignment improve the lot of California’s prisoners, it is clear from this report that this was not uniformly the case. However, perhaps even more troublesome was the reaction of these taxpayer-funded governmental bodies, who although they stated that they would cure the deficiencies catalogued by the auditing body, they rejected its finding that they were required to disclose how and where the additional state funds that they were allocated were spent.
According to the Auditor, “each of the counties and the Corrections Board disagreed with our interpretation that state law requires them to oversee and report on all public safety realignment accounts.... As a result, the funds that each county’s Partnership Committee oversees represent less than 20 percent of the public safety realignment funding those counties receive. Based on our review of the realignment legislation, the counties should have included in their oversight responsibilities all ten of the public safety accounts that state law required the counties to create as a result of realignment.”
Sources: “Public Safety Realignment Weak State and County Oversight Does Not Ensure That Funds Are Spent Effectively,” State of California, auditor.ca.gov.
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