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California's myriad sentencing practices

Yesterday, CJCJ launched the California Sentencing Institute's (CASI) new interface that allows for quicker, easier visual representations of California's statewide sentencing practices.  Immediately apparent upon visiting the site are the huge sentencing disparities among California's 58 counties.  Further exploration of the site indicates various interesting trends.

For example, while Kings County is ranked at the top of every metric related to use of state prison, it is not the highest when it comes to incarceration in county jail (although still higher than the state average).  While statewide, California maintains a high pretrial detention population (that is, 71% un-sentenced inmates who remain in jail because of inability to post bail, or they are deemed a public safety/flight risk etc.), Kings County has an un-sentenced inmate population of 56% (although again, still above the state average by rate).

The reason for Kings County's heavy reliance on state incarceration rather than locally based custodial options requires more in depth research.  However, these trends have significant implications in light of AB 109 criminal justice realignment.  Now that counties are responsible for serving their low-level offenders locally, many counties are experiencing overcrowding in their jails.  One way to manage this challenge is to decrease the jails' pretrial detainee population using targeted and deliberate risk assessment tools.  Taking a closer look at counties that already have lower pretrial detainee populations like Kings County and Santa Cruz, could hold valuable lessons for other counties struggling with this issue.  

For example, when comparing these two counties with lower percentages of pretrial jail populations, several differences emerge.  Kings County's low population of un-sentenced inmates is relative to it's higher than average jail incarceration rate (that is inmates sentenced to a term in county jail).  Thus, Kings County's jails are already being used to house sentenced inmates, reducing flexibility to divert offenders from custody, to alleviate space for the newly realigned population.  Santa Cruz, in contrast, has a lower rate of both pretrial detainees and jail incarcerations.  Thus Santa Cruz is well positioned for the additional low-level population, as it reserves jail use for only high-risk offenders, and has developed targeted interventions and alternatives for those that do not pose a public safety risk.

These data present an interesting observation for the future of criminal justice practices in Kings County.  With realignment, Kings County will no longer be able to rely on the state to incarcerate its low-level criminal justice population.  In fact, within the first eight months of realignment, Kings County experienced a 54% decline in the numbers of new inmates committed to state prison.  How the county will handle this new responsibility remains to be seen.  While initial realignment data indicates that both counties are making efforts to reduce their inmate populations, unlike Santa Cruz, Kings County has less flexibility within its current local facilities to absorb the new population.  However, in its 2011 realignment plan the county laid out various avenues for maximizing existing supervision mechanisms such as electronic monitoring and jail expansion.

CASI will continue to track these trends on Kings County's individual profile page.

Keywords: California Sentencing Institute, CASI, data collection, Kings County, Selena Teji

Posted in Blog, Justice by Geography

California Stentencing Institute screenshot

California Sentencing
Institute (CASI)

Explore how California’s 58 counties send their residents to correctional institutions with interactive maps, charts, and downloadable data.

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