California Report: An Early Look at Realignment Impacts

By Nick Warner, Managing Partner, Warner & Pank LLC, and Danielle Higgs, Legislative Representative/Business Consultant, Warner & Pank LLC

In the months following the enactment of California’s historic 2011 criminal justice realignment legislation, local governments have undoubtedly faced significant challenges. While it is too early to determine any successes of realignment, if fully and permanently funded, it has the opportunity to successfully cut costs, improve local law enforcement supervision, and improve offender outcomes.

From a population management perspective, one of the most notable impacts is the increase in jail populations from the influx of realigned offenders since October 1st. In the planning stage for realignment, the California Department of Finance (DOF) made estimates for population increases that sheriffs’ departments could expect as a result of realigned inmate populations including new offenders and parole violators. A significant number of counties have reported jail population increases at a much higher rate than were expected based on DOF projections. It is possible this is the result of a short-term bubble or it could be a sign of something more troubling and systemic.

Other issues that have risen over the past few months include: the number of parole violators occupying jail beds, medical issues and associated costs from realigned offenders, and the aggregate length of jail sentences. Due to “consecutive” sentences for multiple felony charges, some counties are already experiencing 10- to 12-year sentence lengths for realigned inmates.

These challenges further underscore the need to build facility capacity and expedite AB 900 Phase II funding locally. Not only do counties need more beds, but they need better beds that are designed in more modern ways and in ways that allow for advanced medical, mental health and treatment needs of today’s inmates and especially those higher need inmates we expect to see and are already seeing in realignment.

At the front and center of realignment discussions is the need for full and permanent funding.
If funding continues to grow as budgeted and projected in AB 109 allocation models and if that funding is protected over time, local public safety partners are committed to, and most likely will, improve offender outcomes. As a way for county partners to take matters into their own hands, on November 1st, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, along with the California State Association of Counties and the Chief Probation Officers of California, filed the Local Taxpayers, Public Safety and Local Services Protection Act of 2012 with the California Attorney General’s office. This statewide constitutional amendment, aimed for the November 2012 ballot, would protect existing revenues that are currently dedicated to fund public safety and other local services that were shifted to counties and local governments as part of the 2011 realignment legislation. The measure would prohibit the State from raiding or redirecting these funds in the future, and prohibit the legislature from shifting more responsibility to local governments unless the state provide funding to pay for the services.

Governor Brown is also expected to announce a tax initiative in the coming days, asking voters to raise levies on upper-income earners and increase the state’s sales tax by half a cent. The plan would add an extra 1 percent tax on individual income above $250,000 a year. Individuals making between $300,000 and $500,000 would be taxed an additional 1.5 percent for that income and those making more than $500,000 would see an additional 2 percent hike. Coupled with the sales tax increase, the proposal could raise about $7 billion. The Administration advises that constitutional protections for criminal justice realignment are included in his proposal, but many are those details are still pending and being reviewed.

While the challenges and impacts of realignment are evident in the first few months following enactment, it is also clear that local government leaders are addressing the challenges head on and making all efforts to achieve the most successful outcomes via realignment. With full, permanent, and constitutionally protected realignment funding, local governments are poised to meet the challenges ahead, and work to make this sweeping reform successful.