California Counties Learn Correction Funding Fate

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Fifteen California counties will soon benefit from a $500 million investment in correctional construction projects. As part of Governor Jerry Brown’s continued realignment initiative, funds will help improve inmate education, rehabilitation and medical care across the state.

Correctional officials from 36 counties originally submitted grants totaling roughly $1.3 billion, seeking construction funds made available through Assembly Bill 1022. An executive steering committee appointed by the California Board of State and Community Corrections rated the applications, and made its ultimate decision the first week of December. Though SB 1022 grant monies have tentatively been disseminated, final approval will be determined by the board on Jan. 16.

Among others, Sacramento County has been allotted more than $56 million to expand vocational programming at the Rio Consumnes Correctional Center, which is home to roughly 2,200 inmates. The facility currently offers training programs in areas such as culinary arts and horticulture, and has seen demand for these services increase as a result of the inmate realignment plan.

However, Sacramento County originally requested $80 million in state funding, and Sheriff Scott Jones does not anticipate the $24 million difference will be provided by the county. As realignment has also resulted in increased medical needs, the county planned to use the full $80 million award to add a new mental health and medical center. San Mateo, Fresno and Orange counties, which finished ahead of Sacramento in terms of grant proposals ratings for their shared category, each received their full request.

Facing a federal mandate to decrease prison crowding, Gov. Brown enacted the state’s prison realignment plan back in 2011. As a result, correctional facilities in many counties now house lower-level state offenders. The plan also directed some offenders to supervision and rehabilitation programs. Though these efforts did reduce the prison population by roughly 30,000 inmates, some local jail officials report the move has forced the premature release of county inmates.

The controversial realignment plan has also been blamed for increased crime — both inside and outside jail walls. The Public Policy Institute of California recently linked both violent crime and auto theft, which have increased 3.4 percent and 15 percent respectively statewide since 2012, to early release. This highlights the fact that an estimated 18,000 offenders, who would otherwise still have been incarcerated, have received early release under the plan.

According to data provided by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, realignment has also spurred a rise in inmate-on-inmate assaults. These attacks rose 40 percent in the past two years, said Commander Darin Fothingham. This is also consistent with a November report by the Associated Press stating that many of the 10 counties that account for 70 percent of the state’s jail population have seen a rise in both inmate-on-inmate violence, as well as attacks on personnel. The report says the increase corresponds to the new realignment law, which took effect Oct. 1, 2011.