By way of brief introduction, as this is my first column, my name is Nick Warner and I am the managing partner of California-based advocacy firm Warner & Pank LLC.
I have been fortunate to work as a Sacramento-based advocate for justice and correctional organizations since 1992. Prior to starting the firm in 1997, I was an advocate for the California State Association of Counties where I handled courts, jails, juvenile justice and other related matters for county supervisors.
Our office currently represents the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Chief Probation Officers of California, Los Angeles County, and the California Probation, Parole and Correctional Association, to name a few. Our team serves our clients as legislative counsel, legislative advocates and often as strategic business consultants. Our firm also helps public and private sector clients successfully maneuver through the nuances of legislative, legal and/or administrative bureaucracies in state and local governments.
Over the past decade, corrections in California has become increasingly complex, fluid and unstable. Fueled by under underinvestment and inattention to infrastructure at correctional facilities, a growing populace and effective tough-on-crime laws, California is facing court ordered population caps in 32 counties, a federal receivership, and lawsuits such as Coleman v. Plata that threaten the early release of tens of thousands of inmates from state prison.
California state and local government officials are working to implement AB 900 for re-entry, SBx3 18 for parole reform, and they are working to address issues related to recent lawsuits. These major issues sit against a backdrop of a number of other overarching issues, including a sentencing reform commission, new parole supervision policies and legislation, a state budget deficit or more than $20 billion dollars, and program cuts across all local governments.
AB 900 Construction
On May 23, 2007, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 900 into law in order to relieve significant overcrowding problems facing prisons and jails.
The bill authorized approximately $7.7 billion for a broad package of prison construction and rehabilitation initiatives, including a number of significant provisions to finance the construction of state prisons and county jail space using lease-revenue bonds.
To date, no ground has been broken on any of the re-entry facilities planned under the bill despite significant time and monetary investments by 11 counties who received conditional awards to site facilities. However, the CSSA, CDCR, Department of Finance, Corrections Standards Authority, and the Department of General Services have reinvigorated the effort to move AB 900 forward.
The governor’s office recently established “red teams” to focus on individual county contractual agreements and requirements to identify and resolve obstacles that are impeding the process. We expect groundbreaking to begin this year as a result of the collective efforts.
Expansion of Design-Build Authorization
Several bills introduced this legislative session address design-build delivery. One particular bill to note is SB 879 by Senator Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks). This bill would extend the sunset on statutory design-build language, which specifically covers AB 900 projects for county jails and SB 81 projects for juvenile facilities. Design-build legislation is important to maximize efficiencies in these specific construction projects. The governor’s office and CDCR are also working closely with CSSA and CPOC on design-build legislation specific to local juvenile and adult facility construction.
Implementation of Prison Reform Measures – SBX3 18
SBX3 18, which took effect Jan. 25, 2010, enacted reforms to the CDCR to achieve $1.2 billion in savings assumed in the FY 2009-10 State Budget Act. One of the policy changes includs increasing the credits inmates can earn to reduce their stay in custody.
Following the enactment of this language and the initial implementation of the incentive credits piece, issues were raised regarding the bill’s applicability to local jails. The Senate Public Safety Committee has introduced SB 1487 to roll back the county jail credits sections enacted in SBx3 18 to the pre-Jan. 25, 2010, levels. The bill is intended to clarify ambiguities in current law to conform to the original intent of SBx3 18 in application to state prisons.
Pending Budget Items of Significance
While the June 15th constitutional deadline to pass a budget is fast approaching, as previous practice illustrates, we do not expect a budget by this date or in the immediate weeks that follow, as budget discussions are still largely in the beginning stages. A joint conference committee of both houses of the Legislature are hearing and taking action on proposals that will ultimately be included in the budget bill that is sent to Gov. Schwarzenegger. However, please note that the items discussed below are not final or enacted.
There are a number of items related to corrections, including discussions about an additional $300 million lease-revenue authority for local youthful offender rehabilitative facilities, with half of that amount potentially for county jails. In addition, there is a proposal for felony offenders sentenced to three years or less to serve their sentence in local jail rather than state prison. This proposal excludes inmates who have a current or prior serious, violent, or sex offense. If this proposal were to be adopted, we could see population management approaches complicated, and potentially the need for modifications in Title 15 regulations to address the growing population needs.
Both of these proposals are fluid and not yet adopted by either the Legislature or the governor, and it is likely that we will see both change in substance and form. It does however reflect the discussions at the state level to score savings via population shifts to local governments. They will require local facilities to adjust accordingly to address these changes.
Other Key Legislation in Corrections
AB 552, Correctional facilities
Status: Signed by Governor
Summary: Under this bill, the CDCR is required to develop beds and treatment space to serve inmates requiring mental health or medical services. The bill would provide that any beds developed for medical or mental health would be supported with rehabilitative programming consistent with the medical or mental health services required by the inmates. In addition to designing and constructing new buildings at existing facilities for medical, dental, and mental health treatment, the CDCR is required to renovate existing buildings at existing facilities for medical, dental, and mental health treatment. The bill would also make changes regarding the calculation of design-build project augmentations from these funds.
AB 1376, Sentencing
Status: In Senate, pending referral to policy committee
Summary: Would create an independent, multi-jurisdictional body to provide a nonpartisan forum for statewide policy development, information development, research, and planning concerning criminal sentences and their effects.
AB 2290, CDCR: inmates, summary parole
Status: In Senate, pending referral to policy committee
Summary: Would require the CDCR, not less than 45 days prior to the release of such an inmate, to notify the local law enforcement agency of the jurisdiction to which the inmate is to be released regarding the scheduled release.