Audit Highlights . . .
Our audit of the realignment fund spending of three counties—Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles—highlighted the following:
- » Realignment contributed to overcrowding in Fresno and Los Angeles, but they have not made adequate efforts to manage their jail populations.
- » All three counties indicate they lack the facilities to provide inmates with sufficient educational, rehabilitative, and exercise opportunities.
- » Alameda and Fresno lack sufficient information regarding whether inmates have mental illnesses, which hinders their ability to make critical housing and care decisions to keep inmates safe.
- » There is a lack of comprehensive planning and oversight because the counties have narrowly interpreted the scope of realignment funding.
- The counties’ Partnership Committees have overseen less than 20 percent of their public safety realignment funding.
- Each county had significant surpluses in many of their public safety realignment accounts.
- Counties inadequately assess the effectiveness of their realignment programs.
- » Similar to the counties, the Corrections Board narrowly interpreted the scope of realignment funding. As a result, its oversight of counties has been insufficient and it reports inconsistent and incomplete information to the Governor and the Legislature.
Results in Brief
To reduce state prison overcrowding and help lower the State’s incarceration costs, beginning in 2011, the Legislature transferred the responsibility for managing certain offenders sentenced for nonviolent, nonserious offenses and for non‑sex offenders, including both inmates and probationers, from the State to counties—a change in responsibility commonly referred to as public safety realignment or simply realignment. Under realignment, some newly sentenced inmates who previously would have served their sentences in a state prison instead serve their sentences in a county jail. In fiscal year 2019–20, the State allocated more than $6 billion in public safety realignment funds to counties to offset their costs of incarcerating, supervising, and rehabilitating these offenders. State law requires each county to have a Community Corrections Partnership committee (Partnership Committee), which, among other things, is required to oversee realignment spending and make recommendations for effective use of all realignment funds the State provides. Additionally, the State established the Board of State and Community Corrections (Corrections Board) to provide statewide leadership in criminal justice and report counties’ realignment efforts to the Governor and the Legislature each year.
Our audit of three counties—Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles—found that realignment has affected county jails in a variety of ways. We found that realignment contributed to overcrowding at the Fresno and Los Angeles county jails, and these counties have exceeded the State’s jail capacity standards in the years since the State enacted realignment. However, neither county has made adequate efforts to manage its jail population to meet state standards. Along with housing the influx of inmates that resulted from realignment, state law also intended for county jails to make educational, rehabilitative, and exercise opportunities available to all inmates; however, the counties we reviewed struggled to do so. Counties generally built their jail facilities before realignment, and the jails were only intended to house inmates for sentences up to one year. As a result, officials at the three counties we reviewed stated that they lack the facilities and resources to provide a number of vocational trade programs to prepare inmates for reentry to the community. Further, these three counties’ jails often lack adequate outdoor facilities for inmates to engage in physical activities or exercise sufficiently. These facility limitations are of particular concern because county jails may house some realigned inmates for significantly longer than three years and in some cases longer than 10 years. Since local facilities were generally not designed or intended to house inmates serving long terms, it may be more effective for this small portion of realigned inmates to serve their time in state prison rather than county jails, where rehabilitative opportunities are limited. Although realignment placed additional burdens on counties, each of the counties we reviewed asserted that realignment also had a positive effect, namely, the creation of state‑required Partnership Committees, which made reducing recidivism a collaborative effort among various county departments and community organizations.
We also found that two counties could do more to identify inmates with mental illnesses to keep their inmates and jail staff safe from violence or injury. Specifically, Alameda’s and Fresno’s mental health providers do not share sufficient information with their jail staff about inmates who have mental illnesses. As a result, they deprive jail staff of critical information needed to make housing and supervision decisions to keep these inmates and others safe. In fact, Alameda only conducts mental health assessments of inmates who exhibit certain behaviors or disclose a history of mental illness to jail staff. Without assessing all inmates, Alameda cannot be sure it is providing the mental health care they need. In contrast, Los Angeles conducts comprehensive mental health screenings for all jail inmates and mental health providers share relevant information regarding inmates’ mental health history to jail staff.
Further, our audit of the oversight of realignment funding by the three counties and the Corrections Board found that they have narrowly interpreted the scope of realignment funding from the State, resulting in weak oversight of realignment efforts. As a result, the counties have not fully reported to the State all of their realignment funding sources that are meant to fund public safety realignment and have limited their oversight to only a small portion of the funding. Specifically, in Alameda and Fresno, the Partnership Committees, which state law intended to provide oversight of realignment spending, have generally planned for and overseen the funds of just one of 10 public safety realignment accounts—the Community Corrections account. In the case of Los Angeles, its Partnership Committee oversees just two accounts—the Community Corrections account and the District Attorney and Public Defender account. As a result, the funds that each county’s Partnership Committee oversees represent less than 20 percent of the public safety realignment funding those counties receive. Based on our review of the realignment legislation, the counties should have included in their oversight responsibilities all 10 of the public safety accounts that state law required the counties to create as a result of realignment.
Without comprehensive planning and oversight, counties cannot ensure that their decisions regarding the use of public safety realignment funds are well informed. The counties we reviewed may have planned and spent public safety realignment funding differently had they taken a more comprehensive view of all of the funds available for their public safety efforts. Because the counties limited their oversight of public safety realignment funding to only one or two of the 10 public safety accounts, they have underreported public safety realignment spending by at least 80 percent to the Corrections Board. We also found that each of the counties had significant surpluses in many of their public safety realignment accounts. In addition, we found that counties do not adequately evaluate their realignment programs to determine their effectiveness or to ensure that they are spending public safety realignment funding in the most prudent manner.
Similarly, the Corrections Board has failed to provide sufficient oversight of, and guidance to, the counties and, as a result, has reported inconsistent and incomplete information to the Governor and the Legislature each year. The Corrections Board did not identify that counties failed to report most of their realignment expenditures because, similar to the counties we reviewed, it also has a narrow interpretation of public safety realignment funding. Additionally, the Corrections Board has not sufficiently fulfilled its duty to identify and promote best practices, leaving counties without the tools to implement realignment effectively. Without appropriate oversight of realignment efforts by the Corrections Board, the State lacks the information needed to assess the impacts of public safety realignment, which could aid the Legislature in decision making and planning potential policy changes.
To ensure that inmates serving lengthy terms have adequate educational, rehabilitative, and exercise opportunities, the Legislature should amend state law to limit the time inmates can spend in county jail to terms of no more than three years. In the event that the total sentence exceeds three years, it should require that the inmate serve the sentence in state prison.
To comply with the State’s jail capacity standards, Los Angeles and Fresno should take steps to address overcrowding in their jails, while ensuring public safety.
To ensure that county jails identify inmates with mental illnesses and provide adequate mental health care to those inmates, Alameda should immediately begin conducting mental health screening of all inmates upon admission to the county jail.
To ensure that county jails have sufficient information to determine appropriate housing and supervision of inmates with mental illnesses, by June 2021 Alameda and Fresno should develop a process requiring mental health providers to share with jail staff the mental status of all inmates.
To ensure that the counties prudently and appropriately spend realignment funds, the Partnership Committees in Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles should annually review and make budget recommendations for all public safety realignment accounts. Further, the counties should ensure that they budget all realignment funds to eliminate excessive surpluses in realignment accounts and prevent future surpluses beyond a reasonable reserve.
To ensure that the programs and services they provide with public safety realignment funds are effective, Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles should conduct evaluations of the effectiveness of these programs and services at least every three years.
To ensure that the counties report accurate and consistent information to the Corrections Board, Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles should consistently report all law enforcement and non‑law enforcement expenditures funded through the accounts that constitute public safety realignment.
To assist counties’ Partnership Committees in reporting consistent and complete information regarding their public safety realignment funding, by June 2021 the Corrections Board should do the following:
- Develop and distribute guidance to counties of its expectations for reporting financial information related to all public safety realignment accounts.
- Develop and implement a process to review and analyze the information that counties provide about their realignment activities and expenditures each year.
To ensure that it provides state leadership and promotes best practices for counties to use, the Corrections Board should annually conduct independent analyses of best practices related to public safety realignment and make the results available as guidance to counties beginning in March 2022.
Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles counties, and the Corrections Board, agreed with some of our recommendations and stated that they would take actions to implement them. However, each of the counties and the Corrections Board disagreed with our interpretation that state law requires them to oversee and report on all public safety realignment accounts.