California to dish out $602 million for jail construction

March 8, 2012 | 4:59 PM | By from KALW

The Corrections Standards Authority today approved $602,881,000 in funds for jail construction projects in 11 counties, the second phase in what’s now a $1.2 billion investment in county jails.

Los Angeles will receive $100 million, as will Riverside and Orange counties. Smaller grants will go to Santa Barbara, Tulare, Stanislaus, Kings, Shasta, Sutter, Madera, and Imperial counties.

Originally authorized in 2007 under AB 900, the allocations were recently kicked into gear to help counties deal with increased responsibility for low-level offenders under AB 109, the state’s prison realignment plan.

After the US Supreme Court upheld an order requiring California to address is overcrowded prisons, Governor Jerry Brown opted to tackle the problem partially by no longer accepting those convicted of low-level felonies, like petty theft and drug possession, to serve their sentences in state prison. Under the new system, those offenders are left to the counties to sentence as they see fit–either to time locked up in the county jail or some other sort of programming.

Counties received funding through the realignment plan–$400 million last year and $850 million this year–to help them absorb these new offenders, but most say it’s not enough.

Bill Sessa, a public information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said some of the counties applying for jail money are overcrowded and in need of additional capacity. One county, he said, currently houses jail inmates in dorms, and isn’t equipped to house felons for the longer sentences they receive.

But some in the criminal justice reform community see the grants as taking the state in the wrong direction–simply replacing prison beds with jail beds, instead of turning the justice system’s focus towards rehabilitation of low-level offenders.

While some counties, like San Francisco and Alameda have opted to invest their money in rehabilitation programs, others are looking to the state for jail construction funds.

Californians United for a Responsible Budget today released a “report card” on how counties are approaching realignment. “Only 4 counties — San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Alameda — are using realignment to move away from the disastrous policies of mass incarceration, and a number of counties who had not decided to expand their jail systems are now lined up for AB900 jail expansion funds,” the report said.

Sessa said that while realignment is designed to spur an increased focus on rehabilitation, “no matter how much rehabilitation you incorporate into the system, you still need capacity. And there are counties that have undersized jails.”

According to CDCR, state support for realignment in all 58 counties is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2013-14, and Governor Brown is hoping to guarantee longterm funding through a constitutional amendment. That money, unlike AB 900 funds which are solely for construction, is left to counties to decide how to spend.

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