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In June 2014, California’s legislature approved $500 million in construction funding, through Senate Bill 863, to local adult criminal justice facilities, such as jails and day reporting centers. In the coming months, counties will submit applications to Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) for this funding. The BSCC is now in a position to determine what type of local justice facilities California should invest in, and, given the long-term implications of these facilities for Californians, it is imperative that committee members prioritize support to counties that have exhibited a commitment to rehabilitative practices, pretrial services and diversion programs.

SB 863 stresses the importance of diversion programming, requiring each county to document the percentage of pretrial inmates in their jails and a description of the county’s current risk-assessment-based pretrial release program” in their proposals. Because many counties do not have adequate pretrial diversion programs in place but nevertheless request funding to expand capacity, data as requested by SB 863 is essential to decision making.

The BSCC must prioritize funding to counties that have a demonstrated dedication to minimizing jail populations through pretrial services before considering the need for expansion. California must avoid the trend that occurred in the years following Realignment (AB 109) when state construction funding prioritized counties with higher incarceration rates rather than areas with more violent crime, contributing to the over-incarceration crisis California continues to struggle with.

Though some counties are seeing increased jail populations after Realignment, funding those using pretrial diversion programs to minimize their jail populations prevents counties from replicating the overcrowding of our state system.

As of 2012, 71% of California’s jail population were pretrial detainees. While this number accounts for both low and high-risk detainees, this percentage could be greatly diminished by implementing risk assessment programs in county jails. Santa Cruz County was able to reduce its pretrial population below the national average through pretrial risk assessment and electronic monitoring programs, with only 8% of its supervised pretrial population reoffending.

Pretrial diversion programs also better address the socio-economic and mental health needs of California’s justice-involved population by providing necessary services. This includes counseling and drug treatment to remedy the underlying causes of criminal activity, thus both reducing jail populations and recidivism rates through programming. 

Prioritizing funding to counties that have proven commitment to pretrial services promotes equality in the justice system. Moreover this helps ensure that counties are not needlessly expanding jails and thus condemning taxpayers to decades of unnecessary operating costs.

** The Executive Steering Committee (ESC) overseeing the implementation of SB 863 is meeting Wednesday, January 21, 2015, to discuss this funding project. Because of lasting effects this construction funding will have on communities and taxpayers, public participation is encouraged. If you wish to attend, see more information here.