Use the links below to skip to the section you wish to view:
- Chapter 1—Each of the Three Counties We Reviewed Could Do More to Alleviate the Impacts of Realignment and to Improve Inmate Care
- Chapter 2—Counties’ Interpretation of Realignment Funding is Overly Narrow, Hindering Their Ability to Make Effective Decisions
- Chapter 3—The Corrections Board Does Not Provide Sufficient Oversight of Counties’ Use of Public Safety Realignment Funds
Each of the Three Counties We Reviewed Could Do More to Alleviate the Impacts of Realignment and to Improve Inmate Care
Realignment legislation from 2011 required counties to house additional inmates, even if the counties were already struggling with jail overcrowding. Since then, two of the three counties we reviewed—Los Angeles and Fresno—have exceeded their jails’ capacities, due in part to realignment. As a result, both counties have released inmates early, but they could do more to mitigate overcrowding and keep inmates safe. Along with authorizing realignment, state law also encourages counties to provide educational, rehabilitative, and restorative justice programs to prepare inmates to reenter the community. However, the three counties we reviewed explained that they lack the facilities and resources to adequately provide some of these programs. Nevertheless, although the counties have experienced challenges because of realignment, they appreciate the increased collaboration among county departments and community organizations in efforts to rehabilitate and educate inmates in order to reduce recidivism.
In reviewing the impacts that realignment has had on each of the three counties, we found that Alameda and Fresno county jails lack sufficient information regarding whether inmates have mental illnesses, which hinders their abilities to make critical housing and care decisions to keep inmates safe. Mental health providers in Alameda and Fresno do not share information on mental illness with jail staff when inmates have only mild or moderate mental illnesses because of confidentiality concerns. However, according to Los Angeles, the majority of suicide attempts in its jails occur among inmates within this mental illness range. Our review of inmate deaths at each of the three counties determined that each county conducted adequate investigations of inmate deaths. However, Alameda could improve its process by identifying whether it needs to take any corrective action steps to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future.
Realignment Contributed to Overcrowding in Two Counties and Presented Each County With Challenges and Opportunities
Realignment worsened overcrowding conditions at two of the three county jails we reviewed. During the last decade, the jail populations in Fresno and Los Angeles have generally exceeded capacity. To address this overcrowding, both counties have released thousands of inmates early. However, the two counties each still fail to comply with the State’s jail capacity standards, which determine how many inmates county jails can accommodate. Alameda and Fresno also reported that limited resources and facilities hinder their ability to provide desired vocational programs. Each of the counties noted other challenges that affect realignment, including difficulty with enrolling offenders in rehabilitative programs because state law now requires law enforcement to cite and release certain offenders, diminishing the counties’ ability to enroll these people in rehabilitative programs that jails offer to reduce recidivism.
Realignment Contributed to Overcrowding in Los Angeles and Fresno County Jails
The Corrections Board collaborates with county sheriffs to determine appropriate jail capacities based on each facility’s design and the space requirements for each inmate. For example, to determine the capacity, they establish the number of beds that are appropriate for each cell and dormitory, and they ensure that the jail has an appropriate ratio of showers or toilets to the number of inmates. According to a U.S. Supreme Court decision relating to California’s prison population, overcrowding creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions that hamper the prisons’ ability to deliver medical and mental health care effectively. The same decision notes that overcrowding can promote unrest and violence and cause inmates with latent mental illnesses to develop overt symptoms or have their conditions worsen. Overcrowding creates similar concerns in county jails. For two of the three counties we reviewed, we found that realignment contributed to overcrowding.
Los Angeles has continuously exceeded its jail capacity, both before and after realignment, causing the county to release inmates early. Despite releasing nearly 37,000 inmates early in 2010, Los Angeles continued to exceed its jail capacity each year between 2010 and 2019, as Figure 2 shows. From 2012 through 2019, an average of roughly 25 percent of Los Angeles’s inmate population were realigned inmates. For example, in 2019, of its total population of 17,000 inmates, Los Angeles housed 3,800 realigned inmates. Despite the influx of realigned inmates, Los Angeles’s inmate population has increased by only 3 percent overall since realignment, in part because it released inmates early to manage overcrowding. From 2011 through 2019, Los Angeles released more than 84,000 inmates early because it lacked the jail capacity to house them. Since 2015 early releases in Los Angeles have declined significantly. According to Los Angeles, the county reduced its number of early releases because it had fewer incarcerations due to the passage in 2014 of Proposition 47, which reduced the penalties, including the length of sentences, for certain nonviolent felonies, such as drug and property crimes.
Los Angeles Has Consistently Exceeded Its Jail Capacity Since 2010
Source: Los Angeles’s jail management system and the Corrections Board’s website.
Before realignment, Fresno did not exceed its jail capacity; however, as Figure 3 shows, it has generally exceeded its jail capacity since 2013, in part due to realignment. For example, in 2019, Fresno housed an average of more than 3,000 inmates each day, which is almost 300 inmates over its capacity. In comparison to Alameda and Los Angeles, Fresno has experienced the most significant percentage increase in its inmate population since realignment, climbing by nearly 1,200 inmates, or 62 percent, between 2010 and 2019. To manage overcrowding, Fresno has also released thousands of inmates early each year. From 2011 through 2019, Fresno reported more than 74,000 early releases, the majority (approximately 64,500) between 2011 and 2014. Fresno’s early releases decreased significantly after 2014, averaging around 2,000 releases a year from 2015 through 2019.
Fresno Exceeded Its Jail Capacity After Realignment
Source: Fresno’s jail management system and the Corrections Board’s website.
Even though Los Angeles and Fresno have consistently exceeded their jail capacities, they have not done enough to comply with state regulations that specify capacity standards. Rather than releasing additional inmates or adding jail facilities to more adequately house its jail population, Los Angeles acknowledged that it places more beds than the Corrections Board recommends in jail housing areas and adds beds to jail areas that are not intended for housing. Los Angeles and Fresno told us that they have not released more inmates to comply with the State’s jail capacity standards because the federal courts have accepted their housing practices in settlement agreements from previous lawsuits. Los Angeles explained that releasing thousands of additional inmates to meet the State’s jail capacity standards could negatively affect public safety and subject the county to litigation. Similar to Los Angeles, Fresno stated that the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014 led to fewer incarcerations and made it unnecessary to release additional inmates early. Additionally, Fresno said that it does not attempt to comply with the State’s jail capacity standards because the county complies with a federal court order that allows for a higher capacity than the state standards. However, the county’s compliance with a federal court order that is less restrictive than state standards is not a sufficient justification for ignoring the state standards. The Corrections Board adopted the State’s jail capacity standards as regulatory law to ensure the health and safety of inmates—and counties should strive to meet these standards.
To eliminate overcrowding and comply with the State’s jail capacity standards, Fresno and Los Angeles will need to collaborate with various local agencies, such as the county courts, to take steps to reduce jail populations. Specifically, state law sets forth that sheriffs must receive and confine all inmates committed to their jails. Further, state law indicates that only the courts can legally authorize an inmate’s release from the county jail. Local law enforcement agencies and the courts are responsible for arrests and sentencing, respectively, which determine the counties’ jail populations. Additionally, law enforcement officials may apply to the courts for authorization to release inmates early to relieve overcrowding. As an example of cooperation with local agencies to reduce jail overcrowding, the Fresno sheriff explained that she encourages local law enforcement officers to issue citations to individuals when they see fit rather than arresting them. To reduce their jail populations further to comply with state standards, counties could enhance their efforts to reduce recidivism; expand their use of alternative custody programs, such as house arrest or work release programs; or build additional jail facilities to address their housing needs.
Among the three counties we reviewed, only Alameda’s jail has not exceeded its capacity since realignment, as Figure 4 shows. It had the capacity to house more than 4,600 inmates in 2010, and it had an average daily population of roughly 4,100 inmates during that year, decreasing by almost 40 percent to 2,500 inmates by 2019. Alameda explained that before realignment it had an agreement with the State to house approximately 750 state prison inmates. In February 2012, soon after the implementation of realignment, the State canceled this contract and transferred these inmates back to the state prison system. According to Alameda, it received only about 600 realigned inmates. As a result, Alameda has not needed to take any particular measures since realignment to keep its jail population within its capacity. In particular, it has not released inmates early because its jail population has not approached its inmate housing capacity.
Since Realignment Alameda Has Not Exceeded Its Jail Capacity
Source: Alameda’s jail management system and the Corrections Board’s website.
Counties Reported That Inadequate Facilities and Programmatic Structure Limit the Educational, Rehabilitative, and Restorative Programs They Can Provide
The three counties we reviewed stated that they lack the resources to provide comprehensive education and exercise opportunities to inmates. As described in the Introduction, state law provides that it is the intent of the Legislature that counties make educational and rehabilitative programs available to inmates to prepare them for successful reentry into the community. State regulations also require counties to provide inmates with sufficient exercise space, and courts have held that inmates need regular exercise to maintain reasonably good physical and psychological health. Additionally, county jails currently house some inmates who serve multiyear sentences. Although Alameda and Fresno do not centrally track the number of inmates serving sentences longer than three years, which is the maximum statutorily prescribed length of time county jails should house an inmate, Los Angeles does. It indicated that, as of July 2020, it housed nearly 550 realigned inmates who are serving sentences greater than three years, including 25 inmates serving sentences of 10 years or longer. With limited outdoor exercise areas and resources to provide certain educational or vocational training, inmates in county jails may suffer negative physical and mental health consequences or may not be adequately equipped to reenter the community successfully upon their release from jail.
Alameda and Fresno asserted that they lack sufficient classroom facilities to operate desired educational programs. State regulations require jails to provide voluntary academic and vocational education programs for inmates. However, Alameda explained that it does not have the space or resources to provide certain vocational programs, including baking and barbering, to all inmates. It provides these vocational programs to some inmates, depending upon their risk level classification and housing location, but the programs are not available to all inmates. Alameda also stated that it does not have the space or resources to provide more sought‑after vocational programs, such as woodworking, metal fabrication, or culinary arts. Fresno stated that it would provide additional vocational programs, job training, and trade school options to its inmates if it had additional classroom space. In addition, although these programs may be essential to prepare inmates for successful reentry into the community, Alameda noted that it is not cost‑effective for it to establish the needed facilities or to staff these programs when the majority of its inmates are not incarcerated long enough to complete them. In contrast, Los Angeles believes that it has sufficient space to administer academic and vocational education programs for inmates.
Each of the three counties we reviewed also expressed concerns that their limited outdoor space makes it difficult for them to provide inmates with sufficient outdoor exercise options. Specifically, state regulations require jails to provide exercise areas and allow inmates a minimum of three hours of exercise each week, and the American Correctional Association suggests that jails provide inmates with one hour of exercise outside the cell or outdoors each day. Los Angeles explained that it has mostly enclosed facilities, with only small rooftop outdoor areas, which limit how often and the amount of time inmates are able to spend outside doing physical activities. Similarly, Fresno has limited outdoor space for inmates, including some rooftop outdoor yards and enclosed indoor exercise areas with vented louvers to provide fresh air and daylight. According to Fresno, its tower‑style jail facilities prevent it from providing more outdoor space. Alameda has recognized the importance of having inmates engage in outdoor activities and is currently working toward building additional outdoor areas that it can secure appropriately for inmates in its jail facilities. Jails must ensure that the conditions of inmates’ confinement do not cause adverse health effects, and inadequate exercise opportunities may put the counties at risk of litigation.
Furthermore, we found that some counties lack the programmatic structure to offer effective restorative justice programs that provide financial compensation to victims of crimes that inmates have committed. According to state law, victims of crimes may be entitled to restitution from the defendant, and state law encourages counties to provide restorative justice programs. For example, state law has a process for the California prison system to provide victims of crimes with up to 50 percent of the responsible inmates’ wages and any other funds deposited in these inmates’ trust accounts. Although we expected the county jails to ensure that they have a similar restitution process in place, we found that the restitution programs at the county jails are not comparable to the state prison’s restitution program. Inmates in Alameda and Los Angeles county jails do not get paid wages for participating in work programs, so restitution is limited to a portion of the funds deposited in inmates’ trust accounts, if any. Fresno has not established a restitution program that applies to inmates serving sentences in the county jail, though it says it is seeking ways to address this shortcoming. Therefore, these counties acknowledged that they do not currently collect and provide victims with the same amount of restitution they would receive if the inmates served their time in state prison. We expected that the Corrections Board would have provided guidance and best practices for establishing effective restitution programs to counties; however, as we describe in Chapter 3, it does not do so.
Realignment and Other Changes in State Law Created Both Additional Challenges and Positive Effects for Counties
Each of the three counties indicated that they are seeking solutions to unintended challenges that occurred because of realignment and other changes in state law. Sheriffs and jail staff of the three counties generally stated that decreased sentences for inmates who committed certain drug and property crimes, resulting from Proposition 47, have made it more difficult to engage these inmates in rehabilitative services and programs. Under Proposition 47, many inmates who previously spent time in jail for their offenses either spend less time in jail or are cited and released by law enforcement. Counties explained that when inmates spent more time in jail, they could more easily encourage them to participate in rehabilitative services and programs, such as mental health care, counseling, substance abuse treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy, because participating in these programs allowed them additional free time outside their cells. However, because many of these offenders do not welcome or recognize their need for rehabilitative services when they serve reduced sentences, it is now more difficult to enroll short‑term offenders in services and programs that will assist them in being successful in the community upon their release, according to the counties. Each of the three counties expressed concern that without these services, many individuals do not change their behavior and are likely to return to jail. For example, Alameda stated that it has observed a pattern of former inmates returning to jail for petty crimes, such as drug possession, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and probation and parole violations.
Although several county law enforcement staff we interviewed said realignment and early inmate releases had increased crime, our review of California’s reported crime rates in comparison to crime rates for the nation and other similar states found that this was not the case. In fact, from 2011 to 2014, property and violent crimes in California generally declined. After 2015 the State’s violent crimes have generally increased each year, while property crimes continue to decrease. However, we found that these trends were similar to comparable states, such as New York and Texas. Further, a 2015 research report from the Public Policy Institute of California that analyzed the statewide impact of realignment and crime rates found no evidence that realignment increased violent crime.The Public Policy Institute of California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides independent research for informing and improving public policy in California.
Alameda and Fresno probation departments both described challenges in communication between their departments and CDCR. For example, state law requires county probation departments to provide postrelease supervision for certain eligible state prison inmates. However, according to both Alameda and Fresno, there have been instances when CDCR transfers the supervision of a released inmate to the county probation department but fails to notify the county or ensure that the county received its communication. Additionally, Alameda explained that state parolees are not always aware of whether they are required to report to CDCR or the county probation department. In these instances, if the parolee does not report to county probation, it could be some time before either entity identifies the communication failure and the parolee’s failure to report as required. Fresno stated that although its communication with CDCR has improved since realignment, CDCR does not always notify the county when it has referred parolees to the probation department for supervision. Although the scope of these communication challenges may vary from county to county depending upon their size, sophistication, and distance from local CDCR offices, these challenges present an opportunity for the Corrections Board, which state law requires to identify and promote best practices, to collaborate with CDCR to identify and promote solutions to counties throughout the State.
The Alameda probation chief also believes that splitting postrelease community supervision responsibilities between CDCR and county probation departments has resulted in inefficiencies and duplication of effort, but she has identified a potential solution to increase collaboration between the two. She believes that consolidating the state and local postrelease supervision and reentry systems could resolve these challenges and increase efficiency by allowing the State and the county to pool their resources for services that both entities provide to their clients. As a result, Alameda is currently working with its local CDCR office to obtain joint office space to establish a one‑stop location where parolees and probationers will report and obtain referrals to the reentry services they need. Fresno told us that it would welcome suggestions or assistance from the Corrections Board regarding ways to collaborate with the State to share service providers in order to enhance services and avoid duplication of effort.
Despite the additional responsibilities realignment placed on the counties, many staff we interviewed from the three counties also expressed appreciation for various positive changes that have resulted from realignment. One positive system change that each county valued was the increased collaboration among county departments, such as the mental health, behavioral health, probation, and social services departments, in efforts to coordinate and deliver rehabilitative services and programs. Specifically, they noted the work of Partnership Committees, which provide a structure for county departments to collaborate on criminal justice policies and improvements and to determine service needs and priorities collectively for inmates reentering the community. Each county generally reported that the departments worked more collaboratively after realignment to provide inmates and probationers the services, such as housing, mental health care, and employment assistance, they need to reenter the community successfully.
Alameda and Fresno Have Not Ensured That Their County Jails Have Sufficient Information Regarding Inmate Mental Health
Despite lawsuits alleging inadequate mental health care at each of the three counties’ jail facilities, the jails in Alameda and Fresno lack sufficient data regarding whether inmates have mental illnesses. This information is critical because it allows county jails to make informed decisions regarding inmate housing and supervision that can minimize the risk of violence, injury, or death. According to a 2018 study from the Police Executive Research Forum, mental illness increases the risk of violence within jails, which exposes jail staff to a greater risk of inmate assaults and exposes inmates to greater risk of injuries from violence, self‑harm, or suicide.The Police Executive Research Forum is an independent national nonprofit organization focused on police and criminal justice issues. Thus, when jail staff are aware of inmates’ mental illnesses, they are better equipped to identify when inmates exhibit behaviors related to their mental illness and to address these behaviors. Despite the benefits of this information, only Los Angeles has taken the steps necessary to ensure that its jail staff have sufficient information to inform decisions on how best to house and supervise inmates suffering from mental illnesses.
Our audit found that the mental health providers in Fresno and Alameda do not sufficiently share inmates’ mental health information with the county jails. Each of the three counties we reviewed asserted that the number of inmates with mental illnesses has increased significantly since realignment. Although variances in the counties’ jail data systems rendered the data regarding inmates with mental illnesses incomparable across the counties, the jail data from Alameda and Fresno did not demonstrate substantial increases, as jail staff had asserted. Specifically, the percentage of inmates in Fresno’s jail with mental illnesses increased each year from 2010 through 2015, rising from 3 percent to 10 percent, but generally decreased each year thereafter, falling back to 3 percent in 2019. Alameda’s data system only maintained mental health data starting in 2015 when the county changed data systems. The percentage of inmates in Alameda’s jails with mental illnesses increased from nearly 9 percent in 2015 to roughly 15 percent in 2019. Los Angeles’s data demonstrated that the percentage of inmates with mental illnesses increased from 15 percent in 2010 to more than 30 percent in 2019.
When we asked Alameda and Fresno why their jail data did not reflect a substantial increase in the percentage of inmates with mental illnesses as jail staff had asserted, we learned that their mental health providers did not share with the jails information for all inmates with mental illnesses. Specifically, Fresno’s mental health provider stated that it does not share information with jail staff on inmates with mild or moderate mental illnesses. Likewise, Alameda stated that it only shares information upon the request of jail staff, such as when jail staff suggest an inmate needs a mental health assessment, mental health housing, or mental health treatment, or if an inmate is identified as a suicide risk or is at risk of being the victim or perpetrator of sexual assault. However, Alameda also acknowledged that jail staff are not mental health providers and may not always identify inmates with mental health needs. The mental health providers in Alameda and Fresno agreed that had they shared more complete information on inmates’ mental health with the counties’ jails, it is likely that we would have seen trends in the jail data corroborating claims by jail staff of an increase in mental illnesses among inmates after realignment.
The mental health providers in Alameda and Fresno counties cited concerns about sharing certain information regarding inmates’ mental health with county jails because of confidentiality restrictions under the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Fresno’s mental health provider contended that HIPAA prevents it from sharing certain details of an inmate’s mental illness with jails and said that inmates do not want jail staff to have access to their mental health information. Alameda explained that it was also concerned about jail staff having unnecessary access to inmates’ mental health information. However, we disagree with these concerns because HIPAA privacy regulations specifically allow entities such as mental health providers to disclose protected information about an inmate to correctional institutions or law enforcement officials to ensure, among other things, the health and safety of the inmate or other inmates. Until these counties require their mental health providers to be more forthcoming in sharing critical information regarding inmates’ mental health, county jails will lack key information to make effective decisions about how to house and supervise inmates to ensure their safety and the safety of others.
Another factor contributing to shortcomings in jail data regarding mental health status maintained by Alameda is that Alameda’s health care provider does not conduct a mental health screening of every inmate, as state regulations require. Specifically, state regulations require county jails to have a screening process, administered by trained personnel, for identifying and evaluating all mentally disordered inmates at the time of intake. However, Alameda only assesses those inmates who exhibit erratic behaviors or disclose a history of mental illness to jail staff. The county’s jail staff agreed that without a mental health screening of each inmate by a health care professional, the county lacks critical information to make housing and supervision decisions and risks not identifying inmates who are in need of mental health care. In contrast, Fresno has a registered nurse conduct a mental health screening of every inmate. If this screening reveals any issues or concerns that require further intervention, the jail automatically schedules the inmate for a mental health assessment through its mental health provider. However, its provider stated that it does not share information regarding mild or moderate mental illnesses with the jail because inmate advocacy organizations have expressed privacy concerns about sharing this information. Fresno’s mental health provider believes that there would be benefits to sharing mental health information with the jail when it is in the inmate’s best interest. Both Alameda and Fresno understood our concerns and agreed that it would be beneficial if jail staff had additional mental health information to inform their decisions. However, both advised that it would take careful consideration and planning to ensure that they could share relevant information with jail staff without disclosing specific details that would hinder inmates’ willingness to participate in mental health treatment.
In contrast, Los Angeles’s nursing staff conducts a mental health screening of each inmate upon his or her entry to jail and tracks inmates’ mental health status in its jail database to ensure that jail staff are aware of whether an inmate has a mild, moderate, or serious mental illness. Los Angeles shares mental health information with jail staff by using a code system in the jail database that informs staff of the severity of inmates’ mental illnesses, but the database does not provide jail staff access to inmates’ medical records or specific details of their mental illness. This screening and tracking process may have contributed to the higher percentage of inmates Los Angeles identified as having mental illnesses. Knowing the severity of an inmate’s mental illness is important because, according to Los Angeles, the majority of suicide attempts occur within its population of inmates with only mild to moderate mental illnesses.
Alameda and Fresno Do Not Sufficiently Assess Inmate Risk Levels and Have Faced Lawsuits Regarding Improper Inmate Care
Shortcomings in the approaches Alameda and Fresno use to inform county jails about inmates’ mental illnesses have likely limited the accuracy of their assessment of the risks associated with each inmate. Each of the three counties we reviewed uses its own system for assigning risk classifications—such as minimum, medium, or maximum security—to inmates. Counties design these classifications to assist them in properly assigning inmates to housing and activities while providing for the safety of the inmates and staff. During the intake screening process, counties must conduct a risk assessment of each inmate, which should include an assessment of the person’s criminal sophistication, the seriousness of the criminal charges, assaultive behavior, and physical or mental health needs, among other considerations. The counties use these risk classifications to inform their decisions regarding inmate housing and supervision needs. For example, according to Los Angeles, it uses the risk assessment to prevent negative interactions among the inmate population by separating inmates with rival gang affiliations or a high likelihood of violence. Additionally, this information helps counties identify inmates who are suicidal or at risk of self‑harm. To make these housing and supervision decisions, it is imperative that jail staff and mental health staff collaborate in their assessments of inmates. Alameda also explained that, until recently, it did not always have mental health staff available to participate in risk assessments of inmates upon their entry to jail. It explained that if an inmate does not disclose having a mental illness during the risk assessment process and the inmate was not exhibiting erratic behaviors indicating a mental illness at the time, jail custody staff—who are not trained mental health providers—might not identify inmates with mental health needs or request a mental health assessment.
Although each of the three counties we reviewed claimed that realignment increased the number of dangerous and violent inmates in their county jails, the data they maintain on inmates’ security risk levels did not reflect increases that were as significant as we expected based on what the counties had told us. For instance, the percentage of inmates classified as medium and maximum security in Fresno decreased from 28 percent in 2010, just before realignment, to only 21 percent in 2019, as Figure 5 shows. Alameda and Los Angeles could only provide information from 2015 to 2019 because of changes in their jail management systems. From 2015 through 2019, the percentage of medium‑ to maximum‑security inmates in these two counties increased by about 10 percentage points. Specifically, in Alameda, these higher‑risk inmates increased from 25 percent in 2015 to almost 35 percent in 2019, and in Los Angeles, higher‑risk inmates increased from 70 percent in 2015 to nearly 80 percent in 2019. Los Angeles identified a significantly greater proportion of inmates as being higher‑risk than Alameda or Fresno did. According to Alameda and Fresno, had these counties fully considered inmates’ mental illnesses when assigning security risk classifications to inmates, they may have identified more higher‑risk inmates in their county jails. We provide more detail regarding each county’s inmate risk classifications in Figure A.5 in Appendix A.
The Percentages of Medium‑ and Maximum‑Risk Inmates Have Not Significantly Increased
Source: Data from county jail management systems.
Note: Due to changes in their jail management systems, Alameda’s and Los Angeles’s inmate risk level information begins in 2015.
Shortcomings in tracking mental illnesses may have contributed to some of the lawsuits against Alameda and Fresno regarding improper inmate care. For example, in December 2018, a group of inmates filed a class‑action lawsuit against Alameda alleging several causes of action, including a failure to provide adequate mental health care to inmates. Although the lawsuit was ongoing as of January 2021, the lawsuit initiated several expert evaluations that resulted in recommendations regarding Alameda’s practices, including ones involving custody, staffing, mental health care, housing, and inmate risk‑level classification. Alameda explained that it is working to address many of these recommendations, such as revising its classification practices and hiring additional jail and mental health staff to improve inmate supervision and care. Similarly, in 2011, inmate advocates filed a class‑action lawsuit against Fresno alleging that, among other things, it failed to provide adequate health care, including mental health care, to inmates and failed to protect inmates from injury and violence. The lawsuit further alleges that the county failed to classify and house inmates appropriately by housing inmates with others who were incompatible and putting them at risk of injury from assault. In 2015, in response to this lawsuit, Fresno agreed to a remedial plan to improve its mental health care and jail safety, such as increasing its jail and mental health staff and adding a question to its intake screening form regarding inmates’ mental health histories. Fresno’s remedial plan states that it will improve its classification of inmate risk levels and decisions for housing of inmates.
Los Angeles has also faced lawsuits regarding inmate health and safety and has worked to address identified shortcomings. In 2015 the U.S. Department of Justice sued Los Angeles, alleging that it failed to take reasonable measures to protect inmates against serious harm from suicide and failed to provide adequate mental health care to inmates. The lawsuit attributed these failures to multiple factors, including a lack of appropriate screening by mental health and jail staff, a lack of appropriate supervision, and a lack of communication between mental health and jail staff. Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement in 2015 that included 69 provisions to improve Los Angeles’s care and supervision of inmates. The court appointed a monitor to report the status of Los Angeles’s implementation of the provisions. As of August 2020, the court‑appointed monitor reported that Los Angeles had achieved substantial compliance at most of its facilities with 41 of the 69 provisions of the settlement agreement, of which the majority are related to mental health care, including screening and communication between mental health and custody staff. Los Angeles’s compliance with many of the provisions of the settlement agreement may be a contributing factor to its jail staff having more complete information regarding inmates’ mental health.
Realignment May Have Contributed to a Slight Increase in Inmate Deaths in Two Counties, and Alameda’s Follow‑Up on the Causes of Inmate Deaths Needs Improvement
Our review found that the percentage of inmate deaths increased slightly in Fresno and Alameda after realignment. State law requires law enforcement departments to report information to the Office of the Attorney General about each death that occurs while individuals are in custody, including inmates who die in county jails. The California Department of Justice (Justice) posts this information on its website. We compared county jail data and the information from Justice for the three counties and found that they reported all applicable inmate deaths in their records. We did not identify that any of the three counties inappropriately excluded deaths from their reporting to the State. Justice’s data from 2005 through 2019 showed variations in the number of deaths each year. The average annual number of inmate deaths after realignment declined in Los Angeles, remained the same in Alameda, and increased in Fresno compared with the average before realignment, as Table 1 shows. However, we compared the number of inmate deaths each year to the average daily population and, as Table 1 shows, the percentage of inmate deaths in Alameda and Fresno increased slightly after realignment.
Table 1The Percentage of Deaths in Custody Increased Slightly in Alameda and Fresno After Realignment
|Total Deaths||Percent of Average Daily Population||Total Deaths||Percent of Average Daily Population||Total Deaths||Percent of Average Daily Population|
|Total inmate deaths|
|Total inmate deaths|
Source: Justice.= Indicates a year with a higher number of deaths than surrounding years.
Both before and after realignment, each county experienced some years with higher numbers of inmate deaths, which primarily were attributed to natural causes. Although each county experienced at least one year with a higher than average number of deaths, we did not observe any concerning trends, such as years with abnormally high numbers of homicides or suicides, or consecutive years at a single county with a high number of inmate deaths. Years with more deaths than average occurred infrequently: Alameda experienced a higher number of inmate deaths than average in 2008 and 2014, while Los Angeles experienced a similar pattern in 2009, 2013, and 2019, and Fresno only in 2018. During these years, counties primarily attributed inmate deaths to natural causes, although Alameda and Los Angeles occasionally experienced higher numbers of accidental deaths or suicides during these years as well. We provide further details of the causes of inmate deaths in the three counties in Figure A.6 in Appendix A.
We also reviewed the three counties’ processes for investigating and responding to a selection of inmate deaths to determine whether they sufficiently investigated and then followed up on the cause of death. We found that each county thoroughly investigated each of the inmate deaths we reviewed. However, although Alameda appropriately investigated the cause of death in each of the four cases we reviewed, its efforts to identify whether corrective action was necessary to prevent similar deaths in the future were limited. For example, even though it investigated an inmate’s death in 2017, at the time Alameda did not discuss improvements the jail could make to prevent similar circumstances from leading to inmate deaths in the future. Alameda’s process did not include any follow‑up discussion of issues associated with the inmate death, and it did not conduct a meeting with stakeholders or managers to discuss these issues.
When we brought our concerns about the limitations in Alameda’s follow‑up process to the county, it agreed that it should do more to address the problem. For example, in March 2020, Alameda updated its policy for reviewing inmate deaths to include a review of the circumstances of each inmate death within 30 days. The policy requires staff who are relevant to the incident, such as the facility commanding officer and the health services administrator, to consider whether the inmate received appropriate clinical care, whether there is a need to change any policies or procedures, and whether there are any issues that require further study to identify necessary corrective actions.
In contrast, both Fresno and Los Angeles investigated the inmate deaths we reviewed and have a process to identify corrective actions to address the causes of the deaths. For example, Los Angeles has a unit that is responsible for reviewing and tracking in‑custody inmate deaths. Los Angeles begins its review within two working days of an inmate death to evaluate medical and mental health protocols, policy and procedures, training issues, and the need for immediate corrective or preventive action relating to the inmate’s death. The review must include a discussion of the events preceding the death. Los Angeles conducts a second review within seven days to discuss progress on the corrective actions, and another within 30 days. The unit must forward the results of its review to the applicable unit commander, who must respond within 30 days to the area commander and division chief regarding any corrective or preventive action taken. We examined a selection of the reviews and observed that they identify potential causes of the inmates’ deaths and contain corrective action plans to address those causes if necessary. Similarly, Fresno conducts a “Multi‑Disciplinary Review” after inmate deaths to identify any areas to improve in an effort to help prevent similar inmate deaths.
To ensure that inmates serving lengthy terms in county jails have adequate educational 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 person 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 them with adequate mental health care, 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 jails the mental health status of all inmates, such as whether they have a mild, moderate, or serious mental illness.
To ensure that it appropriately follows up on inmate deaths and works to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future, Alameda should implement its updated inmate death follow‑up process by June 2021.
COUNTIES’ INTERPRETATION OF REALIGNMENT FUNDING IS OVERLY NARROW, HINDERING THEIR ABILITY TO MAKE EFFECTIVE DECISIONS
The three counties we reviewed have narrowly interpreted the scope of public safety realignment funding, which has caused their Partnership Committees to miss the opportunity to take a comprehensive approach to realignment planning. As a result of the 2011 realignment initiative, the State provides counties a significant amount of funding through 10 accounts related to public safety realignment. In fiscal year 2019–20, for example, the State gave the three counties we reviewed $3 billion in public safety realignment funding across these accounts. The State provides a majority of this funding for services, such as mental health and child welfare, that counties’ non‑law enforcement departments are likely to provide. However, we found that the counties have a limited interpretation of the scope of this funding, and their Partnership Committees, which state law intended to oversee counties’ public safety realignment spending, have overseen only one or two of the 10 accounts designated for public safety realignment. Without comprehensive oversight of all realignment funds by the Partnership Committees or another county entity, the counties’ non‑law enforcement departments, which spend a majority of public safety realignment funding, have a significant amount of discretion in how they choose to spend this money, creating a risk that the departments will spend the money ineffectively or may not spend the money for public safety purposes.
Counties Have a Limited Interpretation of the Scope of Public Safety Realignment Funding
Our audit found that the three counties and their Partnership Committees limited their oversight to only a small portion of public safety realignment funds. In fact, Alameda’s and Fresno’s Partnership Committees oversee just one of the 10 accounts dedicated to public safety realignment, the Community Corrections account; whereas Los Angeles’s Partnership Committee oversees two accounts—the Community Corrections account and the District Attorney and Public Defender account. The California Constitution defines the 2011 Realignment Legislation (realignment legislation) as legislation enacted on or before September 30, 2012, related to implementing the state budget plan and assigning responsibilities for public safety services to local agencies. Specifically, the Legislature enacted five bills before September 30, 2012, to accomplish public safety realignment.The five bills that constitute public safety realignment are Assembly Bill 109 (Chapter 15, Statutes of 2011), Assembly Bill 117 (Chapter 39, Statutes of 2011), Assembly Bill 118 (Chapter 40, Statutes of 2011), Senate Bill 89 (Chapter 35, Statutes of 2011), and Senate Bill 1020 (Chapter 40, Statutes of 2012). Through one of these bills, Assembly Bill 118, the State created eight of the 10 public safety realignment accounts we reviewed. However, as we describe in the Introduction, we included two additional public safety‑related accounts in our review that the State created after the realignment legislation because the State also intended for counties to use these funds for public safety purposes. Based on our review of the realignment legislation, the counties should have included in their oversight responsibilities the 10 public safety accounts that state law required the counties to create. In addition, the Partnership Committees generally include representatives who are recipients of funds, such as mental health and social services representatives, from each of the 10 realignment accounts. As such, Partnership Committees should also oversee the mental health funding that the State pays to counties as a result of the 2011 public safety realignment legislation, as we describe here.
The Partnership Committees’ interpretation of the scope of public safety realignment funding is overly narrow and, as a result, they have only overseen roughly 17 percent of the total realignment funds that each county received in fiscal year 2019–20. Because of this lack of oversight, the Partnership Committees have missed the opportunity to take a comprehensive and effective approach to their role of overseeing realignment planning and spending. Specifically, in fiscal year 2019–20, the three counties received a total of $3 billion in public safety realignment funds, as Table 2 shows. Of this total, the State allocated only about $500 million to the Community Corrections account for the counties we reviewed. For example, in fiscal year 2019–20, Alameda received a total of $333 million for public safety realignment, of which it received only $49.7 million in the Community Corrections account. Similarly, Los Angeles received nearly $2.5 billion for public safety realignment, and the State allocated only about $413 million to its Community Corrections account. In Appendix B, Table B.1, we present the allocations that the State made to each of the three counties during fiscal years 2011–12 through 2019–20.
Table 2The State Provided More Than $3 Billion in Realignment Funding to the Three Counties, Fiscal Year 2019–20
|Total Revenue (dollars in thousands)|
|Community Corrections Performance Incentive||1,700||1,800||37,000|
|District Attorney and Public Defender||1,100||1,100||13,500|
|Enhancing Law Enforcement Activities||25,500||21,300||192,700|
|Trial Court Security||24,200||16,600||163,200|
|Total per county||$333,100||$213,700||$2,465,400|
Source: State Controller’s Office’s allocation reports.
* This graphic does not include the Recidivism Reduction Fund because the State did not allocate revenue for this fund in fiscal year 2019–20.
† Although the State allocates mental health funds to counties related to public safety realignment, as we discuss later in this chapter, the Legislature did not specifically require counties through realignment legislation to establish a Mental Health account, similar to the other accounts it required counties to create.
When we asked the three counties why they limited their oversight of realignment funding to only one or two public safety realignment accounts, they generally explained that they had not interpreted the law as we had, and they believe their responsibilities for oversight and reporting of public safety realignment funding include only the funds for the one or two accounts their Partnership Committees oversee. The counties also expressed concerns with the practicality of their Partnership Committees overseeing all of the accounts that constitute public safety realignment. One possible reason for the counties’ narrow interpretation of the scope of public safety realignment funding, which we describe in Chapter 3, is that the Corrections Board—the state entity responsible for overseeing counties’ implementation of realignment—did not provide sufficient guidance to the counties because it had a similarly limited view of the scope of this funding.
Because of Their Limited Oversight, Counties Lack Assurance That They Spend Public Safety Realignment Funds Effectively
Although state law does not prescribe how often the Partnership Committees should meet, the three counties’ Partnership Committees meet regularly to discuss public safety realignment matters related to the one or two public safety accounts they oversee. The committees also advise their county boards of supervisors on the best use of realignment funds for these accounts. This process allows the counties to budget for public safety realignment spending from these accounts and monitor that spending. However, we found that the Partnership Committees for the counties we reviewed oversee and make budget recommendations annually only for the public safety services they support using certain public safety realignment accounts, which, as we noted previously, represent just 17 percent of the realignment funds the counties received in fiscal year 2019–20. In Alameda and Los Angeles, the sheriff’s office or department and the probation department spend the majority of the funds their Partnership Committees oversee. Fresno could not provide expenditure reports that readily identify how much its sheriff’s office and probation department spent from any public safety realignment account, including the Community Corrections account, because its accounting system does not track its expenses in a manner that would allow it to provide this information.
However, the State designates a large portion of public safety realignment funds for services that non‑law enforcement departments are likely to provide, and the Partnership Committees do not oversee these funds. For example, in fiscal year 2019–20, the State provided Los Angeles $748 million in the Protective Services account for services such as foster care and child welfare. In Los Angeles, the Department of Children and Family Services administers these services. Additionally, the State provided Los Angeles $531 million in the Behavioral Health account, which state law restricts for services, including substance abuse treatment programs, drug court programs, and specialty mental health services. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health administers these programs. Similarly, in Alameda and Fresno, non‑law enforcement departments generally administer these types of services. These two public safety accounts—the Protective Services account and the Behavioral Health account—constitute more than 50 percent of the total public safety realignment funding that Los Angeles received in fiscal year 2019–20. We found that non‑law enforcement departments in Alameda and Los Angeles spent nearly 70 percent of the total public safety realignment funds the counties received in fiscal year 2019–20, as Figure 6 shows.
Although realignment funds are included in Alameda’s and Fresno’s annual budget processes, these budgets do not delineate public safety realignment funding separately. Instead, these counties budget those funds as part of a larger pool of funds that departments may spend at their own discretion. As a result, Alameda’s and Fresno’s county departments have significant control over how to spend public safety realignment funds. For some of its public safety funds, Los Angeles could not demonstrate that it delineates them separately in its budgeting process; however, its process for reimbursing departments for public safety expenditures ensures that its departments spend these funds for public safety purposes.
None of the three counties’ Partnership Committees oversee and make budget recommendations for all public safety realignment funds. For example, in fiscal year 2019–20, Alameda’s Health Care Services Agency spent nearly $80 million of public safety realignment funding without guidance or oversight from the Partnership Committee. As the counties’ advisory bodies on public safety realignment, the Partnership Committees serve in a collaborative capacity, with representatives from all areas related to public safety, including law enforcement, mental health, and employment services, to improve public safety. However, because they only oversee and make recommendations for certain public safety accounts, the Partnership Committees are not able to ensure that their respective counties spend funds from the remaining accounts effectively on public safety purposes. Despite this lack of oversight and the risk that counties might not spend these funds for public safety as the Legislature intended, in a limited review of a selection of expenditures at each of the counties, we did not find any instances of inappropriate spending.
Non‑Law Enforcement Departments Spent the Majority of Realignment Funds, Fiscal Year 2019–20 (Dollars in Millions)
Source: County expenditure reports of realignment funding for fiscal year 2019–20.
Note: Fresno does not account for its realignment expenditures in a manner that would allow it to identify how much a specific department spent from a given public safety realignment account.
* Includes departments such as the district attorney, the public defender, health care services, and social services.
Although we did not find that realignment funds in public safety accounts that Partnership Committees do not oversee were spent inappropriately, by not reviewing all public safety realignment funds, the Partnership Committees did not draw on a variety of funding sources in making recommendations to their boards of supervisors regarding the various services they provide or could provide. In fact, counties may have planned and spent public safety realignment funds differently had they taken a more comprehensive view of public safety realignment and all of the funds available for their efforts. For example, in March 2019, Fresno’s Partnership Committee approved a motion to add two full‑time social workers in the county’s public defender’s office and recommended paying for these positions with funds from the Community Corrections account. The Partnership Committee planned for these social workers to provide offenders with a variety of services, including assisting them in accessing health benefits, employment, housing, family counseling, and drug and alcohol treatment services. Similarly, in January 2019, Alameda’s Partnership Committee recommended to its board of supervisors that the county allocate $2.9 million of the Community Corrections account for substance abuse and mental health services. However, state law also allows these counties to use other public safety realignment funds, such as those in the Local Innovation account, to provide such services. In addition, as we discuss later in this chapter, the counties have surpluses in some of their realignment accounts, so they may not be spending realignment funds in the most efficient manner.
Although the primary purpose of the Community Corrections account is to house inmates, each of the three counties uses portions of its Community Corrections account for rehabilitative and social services. For example, beginning in fiscal year 2015–16, Alameda’s board of supervisors required that county staff allocate 50 percent of the prior year’s portion of guaranteed funding from the Community Corrections account to community‑based organizations and nonprofit organizations serving individuals reentering the community after completing a sentence. In fiscal year 2019–20, the county allocated about $24 million from the Community Corrections account to community‑based organizations and nonprofits. As we describe in Chapter 1, each of the three counties we reviewed has been the subject of lawsuits regarding improper inmate care, inadequate jail facilities, or insufficient staffing. As a result, it may be more prudent for counties to use their Community Corrections account to improve jail facilities and to provide sufficient staffing to supervise inmates and probationers, which is the account’s primary purpose. State law allows counties to use the Community Corrections Performance Incentive Fund to provide rehabilitative services, so Alameda could use that fund instead for rehabilitative and social services.
Additionally, Partnership Committees throughout the State provide information regarding their implementation of public safety realignment to the Corrections Board annually. State law requires the Corrections Board to report to the Legislature information related to counties’ implementation of realignment. As we discuss in the Introduction, the Corrections Board surveys the counties to obtain this information. In response to this request for information, the Partnership Committees report their public safety goals, such as reducing recidivism; their progress toward achieving these goals; and their realignment allocations. However, as with their limited oversight of realignment funding, the Partnership Committees have provided information related to only a small portion of their public safety realignment funds to the Corrections Board, leaving the majority of realignment funds and services unreported. For example, although the State provided $214 million in public safety realignment funds to Fresno in fiscal year 2019–20, the county’s Partnership Committee only reported a total budget allocation of $41 million—19 percent of its total realignment funding—to the Corrections Board in that fiscal year. As Figure 7 shows, Alameda and Los Angeles also reported only a fraction of the public safety realignment funds they received in fiscal year 2019–20. As a result, transparency about public safety realignment funding is limited because the counties are not comprehensively reporting how they allocate or spend the majority of their public safety realignment funds. Further, because the Corrections Board narrowly interpreted the scope of realignment funding and did not ensure that the counties reported all realignment expenditures, as we describe in Chapter 3, the information it has provided to the Legislature has been incomplete.
The Three Counties Reported Only a Fraction of the Realignment Funds They Received to the Corrections Board Fiscal Year 2019–20
Source: Implementation report from the Corrections Board and records of payments from the State Controller.
Surpluses in Many Realignment Accounts Indicate That Counties Could Use Funds More Effectively to Improve Public Safety
The three counties we reviewed each have surpluses beyond a reasonable reserve amount in many of their public safety realignment accounts. Each county has goals or policies for maintaining a reasonable reserve. For example, Alameda has a policy stating that it will strive to maintain a reserve of at least 10 percent of a fund’s annual budgeted operating expenditures, whereas Los Angeles indicated that it abides by the reserve amount recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). The GFOA, which represents public finance officials throughout the United States, recommends that government entities retain a reserve of no less than two months’ worth, or about 17 percent, of a fund’s annual revenues or expenditures. However, each county has exceeded its reserve levels in many accounts, resulting in millions of dollars of unspent public safety realignment funds at the end of fiscal year 2019–20, as Table 3 shows.
For example, Alameda had a surplus of $102 million in its Community Corrections account as of the end of fiscal year 2019–20, which represents 205 percent of the revenue the account received in that fiscal year. Los Angeles also had a surplus of nearly $600 million in its Enhancing Law Enforcement Activities account, which represents 310 percent of the revenue the account received in fiscal year 2019–20. Additionally, Fresno has a $1.5 million surplus in its District Attorney and Public Defender account. The county accumulated this surplus, which is more than 140 percent of the revenue the county received in fiscal year 2019–20 for this account, because it did not fully spend the revenue it received in this account in previous years. Similarly, as of the end of fiscal year 2019–20, Alameda and Los Angeles each had surpluses in their Local Innovation accounts, which can be used to further the goals of all but one of the law enforcement services accounts outlined in Figure 1. Specifically, Alameda had a surplus of $1.5 million and Los Angeles had a surplus of $8.4 million. These surpluses are significant because they constituted 550 percent and more than 570 percent, respectively, of the revenue the counties received for these accounts in fiscal year 2019–20. An accumulation of surpluses beyond a reasonable reserve amount demonstrates that the counties could more effectively use their funds to improve public safety.
Table 3The Counties Carried Significant Surpluses in Many Public Safety Realignment Accounts at the End of
Fiscal Year 2019–20 (Dollars in Thousands)
|Account/Fund||Surplus||Percent of Revenue from Fiscal Year 2019–20||Surplus||Percent of Revenue from fiscal year 2019–20||Surplus||Percent of Revenue from fiscal year 2019–20|
|Community Corrections Performance Incentive||15,500||913||900||50||131,400||354|
|District Attorney and Public Defender||Deficit||1,500||143||17,800||132|
|Enhancing Law Enforcement Activities||Deficit||18,300||86||597,800||310|
|Trial Court Security||Deficit||900||6||Balanced|
Source: County accounting records and Controller’s Office’s allocation reports.
Note: Alameda generally uses its county general fund and other eligible funding to address areas with deficits.
* Alameda and Fresno combine their 2011 mental health realignment funding with other mental health funding from the State. As a result, these counties are unable to demonstrate their mental health surpluses or deficits related to public safety realignment.
The counties provided different explanations for carrying surpluses in certain accounts. In response to our inquiry, Fresno stated that the majority of its surpluses in its public safety realignment accounts are a result of receiving more funds than it anticipated in its budget. Additionally, Fresno explained that it takes a conservative approach to budgeting, which would allow the county to continue to operate its services and programs for five years in the event of a state funding reduction, although the county does not actually budget beyond one year into the future. Regardless, we disagree with this practice because a reserve for five years of operations is significantly larger than necessary, particularly compared to GFOA’s guidance of maintaining a reserve of two months of revenue or expenses. Rather, Fresno could more effectively benefit the community by spending these funds to improve public safety. Even if the county took a more conservative approach to its reserves, based on our review of the funding variances from year to year, the county’s reserve should not exceed 25 percent of the previous year’s revenues.
Alameda was aware of its surplus in the Community Corrections account; in fact, the probation chief stated that she has been working for several years to identify the total surplus and use these funds. As discussed earlier in this chapter, Alameda has a policy to designate 50 percent of Community Corrections funding to community‑based organizations and nonprofit partners, and the probation chief is responsible for administering the contracts with these partners. The probation chief explained that she did not have sufficient staff to administer contracts for services in a timely manner, causing surpluses to grow, because despite having additional funds in the Community Corrections account, the county did not provide funding to the probation department for the administration of these contracts. In November 2020, Alameda’s board of supervisors approved funding for additional probation department staff to administer the contracts, which should allow the county to move forward more quickly in spending these funds.
Los Angeles explained that its practice of maintaining a reserve does not apply to its Local Innovation account and that the board of supervisors has the discretion to spend the funds. However, it has not yet budgeted the full surplus. As we describe in Figure 1 in the Introduction, counties can use the Local Innovation account to fund their public safety needs. Each year the State provides counties with base revenue allocations, with an additional variable amount of funding based on any growth in state sales tax and vehicle license fee revenue. State law requires counties to support the Local Innovation account with 10 percent of the variable portion of public safety realignment funding the State provides for certain accounts, including the Community Corrections and District Attorney and Public Defender accounts. Los Angeles considers these funds nonguaranteed, one‑time funds and therefore believes that no reserve amount applies. However, we disagree that the funds are one‑time, because the State has paid the counties some variable funding each year since fiscal year 2013–14. Further, Los Angeles can expect to receive more of this funding in the future when the economy is doing well. Therefore, although the funding amount may have changed from year to year, the State has provided this variable funding consistently for the past seven years. This surplus demonstrates the need for Los Angeles to plan further into the future for how it will spend its money, which we discuss below. The county may plan to reserve such funds for a one‑time project, such as a capital project to enhance its jail facilities. However, without such a plan or a budget, the county has no justification for holding this funding.
We were surprised to find that none of the three counties we reviewed conducts long‑term planning for public safety services. In fact, they do not budget beyond one year into the future. However, the GFOA states that a good budget process incorporates a long‑term perspective. Such a long‑term budgeting process would help counties plan to spend surpluses that accumulated in the previous year. It also would allow counties to build a framework for current and future policy decisions by allowing them to assess the availability of funds for any extensive programs or capital projects. For example, as we describe in Chapter 1, Los Angeles has consistently exceeded its jail capacity. The State provides a portion of the funding in the Enhancing Law Enforcement Activities account for jail construction and operation. Los Angeles could use these funds toward building a new facility to expand its jail capacity, which could help address its ongoing capacity issue. Capital projects often take several years to complete and therefore require long‑term planning. Without such planning, it is unlikely that Los Angeles will be able to address its capacity issues or improve its existing facilities.
Counties Have Not Sufficiently Evaluated the Effectiveness of Their Programs
The three counties we reviewed do not regularly evaluate their realignment services and programs to ensure that they are effective. Counties use realignment funds to provide a variety of services to inmates and probationers, such as employment services, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and housing assistance. State law requires counties to identify and track the percentage of individuals who successfully complete probation and the percentage of state money spent on programs proven to reduce recidivism. Further, the GFOA states that counties, as a best practice, should continually evaluate programs and make adjustments as necessary to encourage progress toward achieving goals. Consequently, we expected the counties to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs and services they offer to inform their decision making about how best to spend realignment funding. However, we found that the three counties we reviewed have conducted only limited evaluations of the effectiveness of their public safety services and programs.
The three counties have only recently completed evaluations of certain realignment services and programs. In October 2020, Los Angeles completed its first in a planned series of evaluations to assess the impact of the county’s public safety realignment programs on inmate and probationer outcomes. However, this evaluation focused on an assessment of trends in outcomes for probationers realigned to the county from the State and includes a review only of programs the county funds using the Community Corrections account, which constituted just 17 percent of its total public safety realignment funding in fiscal year 2019–20. Alameda contracted for and received evaluations of some of its services and programs in 2019 and 2020. Similar to Los Angeles, Alameda’s evaluations covered only a selection of realignment services and programs funded by the Community Corrections account, rather than evaluating all services and programs. As a result, the counties have not evaluated the services and programs paid for by a majority of its public safety realignment funding. Unlike Alameda’s and Los Angeles’s evaluations, Fresno’s evaluations reviewed programs the county supports with other public safety realignment accounts. Specifically, Fresno collaborated with the Pew‑MacArthur Results First Initiative for two evaluations in 2017 and 2018.The Pew‑MacArthur Results First Initiative is a nonprofit organization that works with states to implement an innovative, evidence‑based policymaking approach that helps them invest in proven policies and programs. These evaluations included a review of a variety of programs, such as alternative custody programs and highly supervised probationary reporting programs, which the county supports using funds from public safety realignment accounts other than those in the Community Corrections account. All three counties indicated that they have plans for future evaluations. A more thorough evaluation of programs supported by all public safety realignment funds could provide counties with crucial information about whether they are accomplishing intended program goals, which would allow them to make better decisions about the use of funds.
State Law Did Not Appropriately Establish an Account for Counties to Manage Mental Health Funds They Receive Under the Realignment Legislation
As part of the realignment legislation, the State created the State Revenue Fund 2011 to receive the sales tax revenue and vehicle license fees that the State allocates to the counties for public safety realignment. That fund includes a Mental Health account. In turn, state law required each county to create a Local Revenue Fund 2011 to receive allocations from the State and to divide its Local Revenue Fund 2011 into eight specified accounts. However, in establishing the county accounts, the Legislature did not require counties to create a Mental Health account to receive the funds the State allocated for this purpose for public safety. In total, the State paid $1.1 billion to counties for this mental health funding in fiscal year 2019–20, and state law requires counties to use these mental health funds for public safety purposes only.
Because the State does not allocate the mental health funds associated with public safety realignment to a specific county account, Alameda and Fresno confirmed that they have combined public safety funds intended for mental health with other mental health funds they receive from the State each year. The other funds the State provides to the counties for mental health are associated with a previous social services realignment dating back to 1991. State law restricts the 1991 mental health funding for mental health services that serve specific targeted populations, such as seriously emotionally disturbed children and adults who have serious mental disorders. In contrast, counties must use the 2011 realignment funding for public safety purposes, including providing mental health services to reduce student failure in schools, harm to self and others, homelessness, and preventable incarceration or institutionalization. Los Angeles does not combine its mental health funds in the same way, as it has created a designated account for mental health funds related to the 2011 public safety realignment. However, because state law does not require counties to create a designated account for this funding, the State has little assurance that other counties we did not review account for these mental health funds separately. Without a designated account to receive only the mental health funds created by the realignment legislation, it is more difficult to ensure that counties appropriately spend these funds for public safety purposes.
To ensure consistency between state allocations and county accounting records, the Legislature should amend state law to require counties to separate mental health funding for public safety realignment from previously enacted mental health funding.
Unless the Legislature clarifies its intent otherwise, to ensure that the counties prudently and appropriately spend realignment funds, the Partnership Committees at Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles should, starting with their next annual budgets, review and make budget recommendations to their boards of supervisors for all realignment accounts, including the accounts that fund non‑law enforcement departments and community‑based organizations. 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 funded by public safety realignment funds are effective, beginning immediately, Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles should conduct evaluations of the effectiveness of their programs and services at least every three years.
To ensure that the counties report accurate and consistent information to the Corrections Board, beginning with their next annual reports, 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.
The Corrections Board Does Not Provide Sufficient Oversight of Counties’ Use of Public Safety Realignment Funds
In the previous two chapters, we identify shortcomings in the three counties’ administration of and reporting on public safety realignment funds. These shortcomings—which include counties reporting only a small portion of their public safety realignment activities and spending to the State, as well as limited oversight of the effectiveness of public safety realignment services—indicate the importance of effective state oversight. The Corrections Board has a key role in providing that oversight of counties and thereby ensuring transparency related to realignment.
Specifically, state law requires the Corrections Board to—among other things—provide an annual report to the Legislature regarding the implementation of realignment, inspect and report on county jail facilities’ compliance with state standards, collect best practices and make them available to counties, and define key realignment terms. However, we found that the Corrections Board has, at best, minimally met these requirements and needs to improve its oversight of counties, as Table 4 shows. For instance, it reports to the Governor and the Legislature on realignment, but it provides information on only a small portion of the public safety realignment funds that counties receive because the Corrections Board has narrowly interpreted the scope of realignment funding, similar to the counties. Also, although state law requires it to analyze information that counties submit for these reports, it has failed to do so; thus, it cannot identify when counties submitted inconsistent information. In addition, the Corrections Board does not provide estimates of the cost to correct deﬁciencies it identifies in its inspections of jail facilities to the Legislature, as state law requires. Although the Corrections Board has included links to evidence‑based practices compiled by criminal justice experts on its website, it has provided limited value because it has not evaluated or analyzed the quality of these practices, or categorized those it may identify as best practices for the counties to use. Furthermore, despite having the authority to do so, the Corrections Board has not defined more than the statutorily required criminal justice or correctional terms. Having definitions of terms such as inmate risk classifications and assaults on staff would facilitate statewide comparisons of county data and better enable the Corrections Board to analyze the impacts and effectiveness of realignment. As a result, the information the Corrections Board reports to the Legislature regarding counties’ implementation of public safety realignment is inconsistent and incomplete.
Table 4The Corrections Board Did Not Always Meet Its Oversight Responsibilities Under State Law
|Meets Minimal Statutory Requirement||Improvement Needed:
The Corrections Board …
|Provide an annual report to the Governor and the Legislature regarding counties’ implementation of realignment.||Yes||Provides an annual report, but only reports on a small portion of the public safety realignment funds that counties receive.|
|Collect data from counties.||No||Does not collect complete and consistent data from counties.|
|Analyze data collected from counties.||No||Does not analyze information provided by counties.|
|Inspect and report on county detention facilities’ compliance with state standards.||yes||Provides a biennial report, but does not include findings from inspections conducted by other state entities.|
|Report the costs to bring jail facilities up to standards.||no||Does not provide estimates of the costs to correct jail deficiencies.|
|Collect best practices and make them publicly available.
||yes||Provides links to best practices on its website, but has not evaluated, analyzed, or categorized these links.|
|Define key realignment terms.
||yes||Has defined statutorily required terms, but has not defined additional key terms.|
Source: State law and analysis of Corrections Board documentation.
The Corrections Board Provides Incomplete Financial Information That Offers Little Value to the Legislature
The Corrections Board is critical to ensuring the transparency of statewide public safety realignment efforts because state law requires it to collect, analyze, and report information from each county to the Governor and the Legislature. To collect this information, the Corrections Board surveys counties about their public safety realignment activities and funding allocations, including future program, service, and funding priorities. The Corrections Board provides counties with grant funds each year for responding to this survey. It compiles the county information into a report, which it must distribute by July each year, to the Governor and the Legislature.
However, when the Corrections Board provides its reports to the Governor and the Legislature, the board provides information on only a portion of public safety realignment funding. As we describe in Chapter 2, the Partnership Committees at the three counties we reviewed narrowly interpreted the scope of public safety realignment funding. As a result, the counties submitted information about their activities and allocations related to only a limited number of accounts to the Corrections Board. Similar to the counties, the Corrections Board also interpreted the scope of public safety realignment funding as limited to the Community Corrections account. When we asked the Corrections Board why it had limited its oversight and reporting to only the Community Corrections account, it disagreed with our interpretation of state law and stated that it does not believe the Legislature intended for county Partnership Committees or the Corrections Board to oversee activities related to all 10 public safety realignment accounts. However, the realignment legislation is unambiguous. Specifically, state law required counties to create 10 public safety realignment accounts to receive funds from the State for a variety of public safety purposes. Additionally, it required counties to establish Partnership Committees, which, in addition to law enforcement representatives, include representatives from a broad spectrum of other government services, including mental health, social services, employment, and victims’ advocacy. The required composition of the Partnership Committees reflects an intent that they, and subsequently the Corrections Board, are responsible for overseeing the activities related to all 10 public safety realignment accounts.
As a result of limiting its oversight to only activities associated with the Community Corrections account, the Corrections Board has significantly underreported funds that counties have spent on public safety realignment to the Governor and the Legislature. For example, based on information that the three counties we reviewed submitted to the Corrections Board for fiscal year 2018–19, the Corrections Board reported to the Governor and the Legislature that those counties received a total of only $533 million, or about one‑fifth, of the $3 billion they actually received for public safety realignment. As a result, the Corrections Board’s reports do not provide a complete representation of counties’ public safety realignment funding.
In addition, although state law requires the Corrections Board to analyze the information that counties provide about their realignment activities and expenditures, we found it has failed to do so. When the Corrections Board surveys the counties each year to inform its annual report to the Governor and the Legislature, it asks them to provide details regarding their progress toward meeting realignment goals as well as their prior and current years’ public safety funding. Consequently, we expected the Corrections Board to use counties’ survey responses to analyze county realignment spending and services and to identify statewide trends. However, it does not perform such an analysis. Had it done so, it may have identified some of the concerns we detected in the counties’ accounting of their public safety realignment funds. For example, as we describe in Chapter 2, we found that each of the counties we reviewed had significant surpluses in many of their public safety realignment accounts. Although the Corrections Board has access to data on state allocations as well as the counties’ self‑reported allocations, it did not compare them, even though such a comparison is straightforward to perform and would have revealed, at a minimum, surpluses in each of the three counties’ Community Corrections accounts. As a result of its limited interpretation of public safety realignment funding and its failure to analyze the data counties submitted, the Corrections Board was unaware of the counties’ significant accumulation of public safety realignment surpluses.
The Corrections Board has viewed its role as a data warehouse rather than as an agency responsible for analyzing counties’ data. According to the Corrections Board, it has not received any inquiries from the Legislature or other stakeholders in the last three years regarding public safety realignment trends. However, in our view, the Corrections Board would likely receive inquiries if it analyzed the data counties submit and published its findings. For example, comparing all counties’ public safety funding from the State to the allocations the counties report could generate legislative or stakeholder questions regarding, for example, unspent funding. By not analyzing information submitted by counties, the Corrections Board is providing scant oversight of county realignment funds.
Further, the Corrections Board failed to notice that the financial information counties report is inconsistent. Specifically, we reviewed a selection of county survey submissions from 2017 through 2020 and found errors that the Corrections Board likely would have identified had it reviewed the information. For example, in two separate reports, Alameda reported significantly different state allocations for the same year—fiscal year 2016–17. We found that in response to the 2017 survey, Alameda reported that it allocated $22 million in public safety realignment funds. However, in response to the 2018 survey, it reported that it allocated $56 million in fiscal year 2016–17—a difference of $34 million. Alameda also reported allocations related to the public defender, district attorney, probation department, and sheriff’s office for some fiscal years but omitted them in other fiscal years without explanation. In addition, in response to the 2019 survey, Alameda reported its sheriff’s office and public defender amounts as expenditures rather than budget allocations. Expenditures are not equivalent to budget allocations; therefore, we were surprised to see the two measures used interchangeably. According to Alameda’s probation chief, both the sheriff and public defender have been reporting expenditures because their expenditures have exceeded the state allocations. We believe that if the Corrections Board reviewed counties’ submissions, identified these types of inconsistencies, and requested that counties correct them, it would help ensure that counties meaningfully report information regarding their implementation of public safety realignment. Additionally, consistent reporting among counties would allow the Corrections Board and stakeholders to perform cross‑county comparisons of realignment spending and performance, allowing for a statewide view of realignment efforts.
The Corrections Board Has Failed to Inform the Legislature of the Costs Necessary to Address Deficiencies in Jail Facilities
The oversight that the Corrections Board provides for local jails, where inmates transferred due to realignment serve their sentences, needs improvement. As we describe in the Introduction, state law requires the Corrections Board to establish facility standards, including health and safety standards, for county jails. It is also responsible for inspecting county jails every two years to ensure that they meet those standards. Additionally, state law requires the Corrections Board to report the results of its inspections every two years to the Legislature and include estimates of the costs for counties to correct any deficiencies that the Corrections Board identifies. However, none of the Corrections Board’s three most recent biennial reports, which spanned its 2012 through 2018 inspections, contained estimates of the costs to correct identified deficiencies. For example, in its 2014–2016 biennial report, the Corrections Board found that seven buildings at the Santa Rita jail in Alameda County had fewer than the required one shower for every 20 inmates. Although the Corrections Board reported this problem to the Legislature, it failed to report either the cost to add the appropriate number of showers to the seven buildings or the cost to reduce the number of inmates housed in the buildings in order to meet the shower requirement.
The Corrections Board asserted that it does not include these costs in its reports to the Legislature because it is concerned that its estimates would be speculative. However, in our view, the Corrections Board is in the best position to request or make those estimates on behalf of the State because it is required to inspect facilities in every county and provide recommendations to counties to assist them in constructing, remodeling, and repairing jail facilities that comply with state standards. Counties must also submit budget estimates to the Corrections Board whenever they plan construction or repairs costing more than $15,000, so they could submit estimates of the cost of rectifying jail deficiencies, which the Corrections Board could publish in its jail inspection reports. By definition, estimates are rough assessments of costs based on imperfect data, so the Corrections Board is certainly able to obtain or make an appraisal of the cost of bringing a facility into compliance with its standards and to provide that estimate to the Legislature.
When the Corrections Board does not include cost estimates for facility improvements in its jail facility reports to the Legislature, it limits the Legislature’s ability to address overcrowding issues or other constraints, such as limited classroom or outdoor space, within county jails. As we discuss in Chapter 1, overcrowding can lead to increases in inmate violence, illness, and mental health issues. Further, the three counties we reviewed have each been the subject of lawsuits alleging insufficient mental health care due in part to lack of treatment space and appropriate supervision, and also alleging violence from other prisoners due in part to low staff‑to‑prisoner ratios and jail construction design flaws—all of which are issues related to overcrowding. Although the Corrections Board’s three most recent biennial jail inspection reports for Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles identified many instances of overcrowding, they did not describe the estimated costs of alleviating the situation. For example, in three separate inspections between 2012 and 2018, the Corrections Board reported that Fresno’s North Annex Jail was overcrowded and lacked a sufficient number of showers and toilets for the number of inmates the facility held. Had the Corrections Board included estimates for the cost to renovate or build new facilities to address this overcrowding in its reports, it would have better informed the Legislature, which could consider allocating resources to address the problem. Thus, it is important for the Corrections Board to provide estimates of the costs necessary for jail facilities to comply with standards and to inform the Legislature’s decisions regarding the allocation of public safety realignment funding.
The Corrections Board has made some improvements to its inspection process for jail facilities to ensure that the counties correct identified deficiencies in a timely manner. State law has required the Corrections Board only to provide its inspection reports on its website and to certain county officers and entities, including the presiding judge of the county’s superior court, the county board of supervisors, and the local grand jury. However, the Governor noted in his proposed fiscal year 2020–21 budget that the Corrections Board needs to more actively engage counties regarding the deficiencies identified through its inspections and to conduct more frequent follow‑up inspections. In response, in September 2020 the Corrections Board approved a plan to revise its process for ensuring that counties correct their deficiencies in a timely manner. The revised process requires counties to either correct outstanding items of noncompliance or submit a corrective action plan within 30 days after the Corrections Board issues its report and identify how they plan to correct those deficiencies within 60 days. The revised process also requires county jail administrators to appear at a public Corrections Board meeting if they fail to correct their deficiencies or submit a corrective action plan.
Although the Corrections Board has recently made these improvements in its oversight of jail facilities, we believe it also needs to ensure that counties address deficiencies identified by other entities that inspect jails. The Corrections Board is responsible for establishing certain health, fire, and life safety standards for county detention facilities, but it relies on outside agencies to conduct facility inspections in those areas. Specifically, the state fire marshal inspects facilities for fire and life safety requirements, whereas county departments of public health evaluate facilities for compliance with nutritional, environmental, and physical and mental health standards. Although the Corrections Board receives the reports of these inspections, it does not follow up on the results. According to the deputy director of its Facilities Standards and Operations Division, the Corrections Board’s governing statutes do not prohibit follow‑up with health officers and fire marshals, but the board has not conducted this sort of follow‑up, and state law does not specify the Corrections Board’s responsibility regarding oversight in this area. The deputy director indicated that the outside agencies that conduct those inspections are responsible for working with counties to develop corrective action plans to address those deficiencies. However, given its leadership and oversight role in the criminal justice system and the potentially critical nature of health and fire safety deficiencies, the Corrections Board should follow up on the results of these inspections to ensure that counties rectify their deficiencies in a timely manner. The Corrections Board should also include a description of the results of these inspections, including whether they are repeat findings, in its reports to the Governor and the Legislature to ensure that they are aware of all problems identified during inspections of county jail facilities.
Although It Is Responsible for Identifying and Promoting Best Practices, the Corrections Board Has Not Adequately Done So
State law requires the Corrections Board to provide guidance to counties by making data and information publicly available on state and community correctional policies, practices, capacities, and needs—and on the impact of those policies and practices on inmates and the community. The Corrections Board is also responsible for identifying, promoting, and providing technical assistance to counties relating to evidence‑based programs, practices, and innovative projects consistent with the board’s mission to improve public safety. However, the Corrections Board has taken few steps to fulfill this responsibility. These activities are critical because identifying and promoting practices that are effective allows counties to determine whether a similar solution may be suitable for a problem they face. For example, as we describe in Chapter 1, the three counties we reviewed either lack a process for victims to receive restitution payments from inmates or have practices that limit the amount of this restitution. However, the Corrections Board has done little to identify and promote best practices regarding restitution or to help counties in other ways, such as by identifying the most effective programs for jails to rehabilitate and reintegrate inmates into society upon their release. Instead, it has left it to counties to come up with solutions and best practices on their own.
Although the Corrections Board has included on its website links to evidence‑based practices compiled by criminal justice experts, this information serves only as a general list because the Corrections Board has not evaluated, analyzed, or categorized those practices. For example, the board’s website has a link to U.S. Department of Justice’s website that lists hundreds of criminal justice practices and programs that researchers have rated as effective, as promising, or for which there is no evidence of efficacy. However, the Corrections Board includes on its website only a brief description of the listing and has done nothing to guide counties to specific programs, information, or topics that may address common problems in counties throughout the State. Instead, the Corrections Board could review programs within U.S. Department of Justice’s list to identify those that are successful and that may address the unique challenges California’s counties face. The other links on the board’s website are similar, containing references to evidence‑based practices collected by government entities, academic institutions, and third‑party organizations but without any analysis or insight provided by the Corrections Board on the practices that may be best suited for California jails.
The Corrections Board also has not sufficiently promoted best practices that counties have already implemented to address their opportunities and challenges presented by realignment. In its annual survey, the Corrections Board asks counties about challenges presented by realignment and programmatic changes they have made in implementing realignment that they believe other counties would find helpful. For instance, in the Corrections Board’s annual report for fiscal year 2019–20, a total of 19 counties identified housing issues, such as finding appropriate long‑term housing for parolees, as a challenge. Considering the number of counties that reported challenges with housing issues, we expected the Corrections Board to include all relevant housing‑related programs and projects that counties reported as opportunities in its 2020 report. However, although the Corrections Board highlighted two housing programs from around the State in its 2020 report, it did not include all of the housing programs and projects that could assist other counties. One county specifically identified a program related to transitional housing in its survey response that combines drug recovery services with 60 days of housing for some probationers. Had the Corrections Board highlighted this program, other counties might have expressed interest in whether it could address some of the housing issues they are facing. Identifying evidence‑based practices already implemented by one county and promoting them to other counties in California is an important activity for the Corrections Board to undertake. If the Corrections Board were to evaluate programs and more fully report on county opportunities to address common challenges, it could aid statewide and county realignment efforts.
The Corrections Board believes that it fulfills its legal obligations to identify and promote best practices and provide technical assistance by posting information compiled by criminal justice experts on its website and answering counties’ questions upon request. Although it is statutorily required to conduct evaluation studies of federally funded programs and activities—and it requires its grantees to do so as a condition of their grants—the Corrections Board itself does not evaluate programs. In addition to directing us to its website, the Corrections Board noted that it provides consultations on grants that it administers and requires grantees to use evidence‑based programs as a condition of their grant. The Corrections Board asserted that it would like to provide more assistance to counties but that doing so is very resource‑intensive. According to the Corrections Board, it conducted a staffing analysis in 2012, after which it added research positions in 2013, 2015, and 2018 to assist with a research initiative. However, according to the Corrections Board, these positions did not directly provide additional assistance to counties.
Until it improves the quality of best‑practices content on its website and its selection of programs to highlight in its annual reports, the Corrections Board is not sufficiently helping counties to overcome challenges or seize opportunities to improve their public safety realignment practices. By not recommending any particular best practices, the Corrections Board does not add value to the information it publishes and instead serves merely as a repository, or pass‑through, of information rather than an oversight body. Further, the Corrections Board is missing the opportunity to share its conclusions regarding best practices to address the impacts of public safety realignment, which could aid the Legislature in decision making and in planning potential policy changes.
Key Terms Defined by the Corrections Board
- Average daily population*
- Length of stay
- Treatment program completion rate*
Source: Corrections Board annual realignment reports to the Governor and the Legislature and state law.
* Indicates term required by state law
The Corrections Board Has Not Ensured That Counties Report Data in a Comparable Way
State law requires the Corrections Board to define certain terms to facilitate comparisons of information across counties; however, although it has the authority to do so, the Corrections Board has not defined some other terms for which counties have requested definitions. As the text box shows, the Corrections Board has defined several terms related to public safety, including recidivism, to facilitate consistency in data collected from the counties to prepare its annual report to the Governor and the Legislature about counties’ implementation of their realignment plans. Even though some counties have requested additional definitions in their survey responses, the Corrections Board has not defined any other terms, such as assault on staff or inmate risk level. However, the three counties we reviewed are using different definitions for these terms and are reporting information to the Corrections Board based on their interpretation of those terms. Because of this inconsistency, the information that the Corrections Board reports to the Governor and the Legislature is not necessarily comparable from county to county. The Corrections Board told us it has not defined additional terms because the former Governor’s administration wanted to ensure that counties had autonomy. Nevertheless, we expected the Corrections Board to provide counties with definitions to enable consistent reporting and comparisons between counties.
In addition, for the terms that the Corrections Board has defined, it is not ensuring that counties actually use those definitions when reporting information about realignment. When the Corrections Board conducts its annual survey of counties for its report to the Governor and the Legislature, one of the questions it asks counties is whether they used its definitions in their responses. In 2020 one‑third of the State’s counties reported that they did not use some or all of the Corrections Board’s definitions. Notably, Los Angeles does not use any of the Corrections Board’s definitions. For instance, although the Corrections Board defines recidivism as “conviction of a new felony or misdemeanor committed within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction,” Los Angeles uses a different definition. The county explained that it is interested in tracking additional events that are not associated with new felony or misdemeanor convictions, such as arrests for misdemeanor offenses or violations of supervision terms that result in a return to custody. In addition, Los Angeles indicated that it attempts to track recidivism for three‑year periods but that often it reports only one or two years of information because those are the only data available. As a result of these differences, if readers of the Corrections Board’s annual report were to compare Los Angeles’s recidivism rate to that of another county, they would not receive a useful comparison.
Similarly, Fresno tracks assaults on staff, but the way it reports assaults results in duplicate entries. For example, if one incident involves multiple types of assault, including physical, verbal, and gassing—an attack that involves an inmate throwing bodily fluids at jail staff—Fresno’s data system would count this one incident in three different categories of assault. As a result, Fresno’s reports of assaults on staff are neither consistent with nor comparable to other counties, which may be reporting assaults differently. Because counties do not consistently use the Corrections Board’s definitions—and because the board has not defined additional key terms such as assaults on staff—the information the board presents in its report to the Legislature is not comparable across the State.
In response to our concerns about counties not consistently using its definitions, the Corrections Board noted that it believes requiring counties to follow its definitions could create a higher level of service that may require the State to reimburse counties for the costs associated with reporting information according to its definitions. Specifically, it suggested that the State would have to reimburse counties for the costs associated with tracking data based on the definitions it provides. However, this response does not reflect the fact that the Corrections Board does not require counties to report to it. The counties generally comply voluntarily with the Corrections Board. Although some key terms are included in other requests that it asks of counties, pursuant to language in the annual Budget Act, the Corrections Board provides between $100,000 and $200,000 in grant funding, based on population, to each county that responds to its realignment survey. Subsequently, the Corrections Board reports the realignment data and information counties provide in its annual report to the Legislature. In our view, the Corrections Board is well within its authority to strengthen its requirements, such as by requiring counties to use consistent definitions without creating a state mandate.
To ensure that the counties and the Corrections Board are aware of their oversight responsibilities and resolve inconsistencies we identified from county to county, the Legislature should amend state law to clearly identify the specific accounts in the Local Revenue Fund 2011 it requires county Partnership Committees to plan for and oversee and the Corrections Board to include in its annual reports to the Legislature.
To ensure that county Partnership Committees report consistent and complete, and comparable information regarding their public safety realignment funding and activities, by September 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.
- Develop definitions for terms it asks counties to report on, including assault on staff and inmate risk level.
To comply with state law, the Corrections Board should include the cost of bringing jail facilities up to state standards in its biennial jail facility reports to the Governor and the Legislature, beginning with its 2018–2020 biennial report.
To ensure that counties’ detention facilities address health, fire, and life safety deficiencies in a timely manner and that the Governor and the Legislature are aware of these deficiencies, beginning with its next biennial report, the Corrections Board should incorporate inspection information that the state fire marshal and county departments of public health provide to counties into its corrective action process and its reports to the Governor and the Legislature.
To ensure that it provides state leadership and promotes best practices for counties to use, by March 2022 the Corrections Board should do the following:
- Conduct an independent analysis of best practices, such as effective practices for restitution or rehabilitative programs, related to public safety realignment and publish the results.
- Categorize the best practices it lists on its website for ease of reference to the counties.
- Determine common county needs stemming from realignment and promote specific best practices that meet the common needs of counties, including best practices developed and adopted by California counties.
We conducted this performance audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards and under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by Government Code sections 8543 et seq. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on the audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor
March 25, 2021