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On March 9th, California’s Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety held a hearing to discuss key criminal justice items in Governor Brown’s proposed FY 16 – 17 Budget. One item included a proposal for $250 million for local adult facility construction funding. 20 counties who either did not receive prior facility funding or were awarded only partial grants are eligible for this funding. The committee did not act on the item and it will be decided on at a later time.

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At the hearing, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) offered a highly critical analysis of this proposed funding. As they note, the administration has failed to provide an assessment on need, particularly given the impact of Proposition 47 on jail populations. Per the LAO, the administration and counties have not articulated the use of pre-trial detention alternatives and community-based services, which improve public safety and reduce need for detention space. The LAO’s Aaron Edwards noted, We are concerned that this proposal lacks an adequate assessment of need… Without that sort of an assessment it’s hard for the Legislature to determine whether the 250 million dollars being proposed by the administration is justified.”

CJCJ, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), the ACLU-CA, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and many others expressed their opposition to this additional facility funding. Lizzie Buchen with CURB testified that, We have an opportunity not just to reduce the number of people in our prisons and jails but to invest in communities that have experienced high incarceration rates to make those communities safer, stronger, and more prosperous.“

CJCJ has also previously expressed concern with how prior facility construction funding has been implemented. In particular, it remains unclear how the state oversees whether counties actually follow through with the programs, which are supposed to take place in these new facilities. The Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) is responsible for administering these facility grants. The three funding grants overwhelmingly supported custodial detention facility space, rather than multi-purpose program space where community-based partners can address the underlying causes of system-involvement through mental health, drug treatment, and employment services.

Since 2007, the state has already allocated $2.2 billion for similar construction and yet this additional proposed facility construction fails to address major challenges, and instead risks replicating the structural challenges that Californian’s Public Safety Realignment was meant to reform.

In 2011, California adopted Realignment due to systemic issues of prison overcrowding, violence, and a failure to provide healthcare services. Since then the state made grant funding available to counties through Senate Bill (SB) 1022 and SB 863, which had been meant to prioritize local programming and treatment space for facilities under the jurisdiction of a county sheriff.

However, rather than addressing an overpopulated criminal justice system by expanding local county facilities, California has an opportunity to benefit from research showing that treatment is best provided outside of prison and jails, invest in alternatives to incarceration, and more regularly utilize pretrial services and diversion placements.