‘Passing’ Grades for Alternatives to Incarceration, ‘Fails’ for Construction
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
California—On the heels of the October 1st implementation of the State’s massive realignment of its prison system, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) has issued grades for how well 13 different counties plan to shift prisoners from state prisons to county level jails and programs. CURB, a statewide alliance of several dozen organizations seeking to curtail prison spending by reducing the number of people in prison and the number of prisons in the state, points out that the realignment plan developed in response to the US Supreme Court’s order to reduce California’s prison population by 33,000 prisoners, actually gives counties an opportunity to implement criminal justice reforms that could shift resources away from simply locking people up.
“Even though education spending has been absolutely pummeled by budget cuts, students returning to school this fall are still expected to perform. We thought we’d evaluate how well counties are performing when it comes to make strong steps toward overcoming California’s prison crisis,” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for CURB. Using a “pass”, “fail”, and “incomplete” grading system, CURB assessed San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Fresno, Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and San Mateo counties. Starting from the understanding that realignment would most effectively be implemented by using alternative sentencing and community-based reentry services instead of costly and ineffective jail expansion, CURB issued its grade by looking at counties’ balance between alternatives and more corrections spending.
Of the 13 counties, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara counties did best with “passing” grades. These counties’ realignment plans seem to include resources for alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment, housing, and restorative justice programs, with strong reentry services for those exiting county facilities. At this point, these counties also don’t seem to have construction plans in the works. Despite positive steps toward alternative and reentry services, and even though realignment only deals with the adult system, Alameda county was given an “incomplete” based on its plans to expand juvenile facilities.
Fresno, Kern, and San Bernardino counties all received failing grades based on their poor alternatives programs and most importantly on their plans for using tax-payer dollars for jail construction. Both Kern and San Bernardino counties plan on using realignment funds to add more than 1000 jail beds respectively. While Fresno has plans to expand by 870 beds. Los Angeles county squeaked by with an “incomplete” because it has no specific construction or expansion plans, but CURB did warn against expansion overtures being made by its sheriff as well as “other policies that could undermine successful re-entry, such as using ‘flash incarceration,’ which allows the Probation Department to incarcerate an individual up to 10 days without a hearing, contracting with community correctional facilities in the San Joaquin Valley to house prisoners, and increasing the number of long-term prisoners housed in fire camps.”
The remaining counties received “incompletes” for poorly outlining alternatives to incarceration or having imminent threats of jail construction and expansion. In issuing grades CURB stressed, “Realignment should not be used as an excuse to expand policing, probation or jails. If realignment is to be successful, it must move away from financially and socially disastrous expansion plans, and invest in supporting people returning to our communities.”
Linda Evans, a former prisoner working with CURB member organizations Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us Or None, sees room for growth for all counties. “All of these counties are more than capable of choosing to prioritize alternatives to imprisonment and strong reentry services that will break the terrible cycles that have caused this crisis,” says Evans. “And there is much more to do, especially as it relates to reentry. We have thousands of formerly incarcerated people in this state trying to reintegrate into their communities that are getting discriminated against at every turn. Services are a great start, and we need to work just as hard to restore our people’s civil rights.”
A recent USC/LA Times poll found that a sizable majority of Californians want state spending on healthcare and education rather than imprisonment, with majorities favoring other sweeping prison system reforms. CURB says it hopes to offer ways for counties to humanely implement realignment plans while at the same time continuing to work for early release for sick and elderly prisoners, as well as three strike, sentencing, parole, and probation reforms.
To view the complete report card visit: http://curbprisonspending.org/?p=790