Data from the Corrections Standards Authority shows that 71% of jail space
in California counties is filled by individuals who are unsentenced. For the simple reason of not being able to afford a bail amount that varies widely from county to county for the same sentence, these individuals are separated from their communities, families, receive no rehabilitative programming, taking up jail beds that should be used for offenders determined to be a risk to their community, all at the costs of millions of dollars per year to counties.
As noted in the recent ACLU report, "California at a Crossroads"
, legislative language under Assembly Bill 109 encourages counties to adopt practices such as home detention and other pretrial alternatives instead of requiring bail for low-level, low-risk offenders. The report quotes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as saying,
"Almost all of these [non-sentenced, pretrial] individuals could be released and supervised in their communities--and allowed to pursue or maintain employment, and participate in educational opportunities and their normal family lives--without risk of endangering their fellow citizens or fleeing from justice."
Despite specific language in AB 109 supporting community based programming, the ACLU report finds that while most counties express some intention of using some of the pretrial and detention, the actual funding allocations in their implementation plans reveal other priorities. The report concludes, "The lack of detail provided in many of the plans, and especially the absence of data collection and outcome measurements, means that counties may be paying more in lip service to jail alternatives than in the actual funding and genuine institutional support necessary for their success."
The ACLU highlights San Diego County as meriting special attention for their plans to implement a comprehensive array of assessments, alternatives, and programming designed to reduce recidivism and promote long-term public safety:
"In San Diego County, for example, according to its realignment plan, probation agents will employ a risk and needs assessment tool throughout individuals' experience within the criminal justice system. For the pretrial population, the tool will be used to determine who may be safely released to await trial and, if so, whether they will be released with conditions, such as home detention, electronic monitoring, alcohol monitoring, GPS, work furlough or residential drug treatment. The results of the assessment will also be made available to all parties at sentencing in order to encourage "evidence-based sentencing." Once sentenced, the county plans to use an assessment tool to determine where best to hold that individual accountable--in jail, on work release, on home confinement or under some other arrangement."
As is unfortunately commonplace in California in both adult and juvenile corrections, only a few strong counties will lead the way in implementing best practice programs, while the majority of others remain entrenched in the status quo. Massive jail expansions
and populations of over 70% unsentenced individuals in county jails will not deliver the cost savings and public safety that California taxpayers are looking for. For adult realignment to live up to its promise, county systems leaders, specifically sheriffs, prosecutors, and probation departments, must invest early in data-driven practices shown to promote rehabilitation of low-level offenders and reduce recidivism. California counties can no longer operate under a "justice by geography"
and expect the results that taxpayers deserve.