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California State Capitol Building

Photo by Justin Brockie | flickr creative commons

On Thursday, January 9, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed FY 2014 – 15 Budget for California. CJCJ applauds the Governor’s willingness to adopt some of the systemic changes necessary for not only meeting the court-ordered prison population cap, but also improving public safety outcomes for all Californians. Yet, we are concerned by a failure to support long-term systemic reforms for improving our criminal justice system and the near absence of juvenile justice policy in his budget. 

The Governor’s plan to implement court-ordered back-end” reforms that expand medical parole, elderly parole, and credit enhancements is responsible and well-researched. Governor Brown also highlights the importance of Proposition 36 and recently enacted Youthful Offender Parole Hearings through Chapter 312, Statues of 2013 (SB 260). Swift and thorough implementation of these measures will be critical to their success. Moreover, CJCJ and other advocates have also called for greater county use of split sentences, something Governor Brown has proposed as a requirement unless a judge believes it inappropriate. We hope the Governor will be vigilant, given that split sentencing is central for effective jail population strategies and counties have demonstrated varied implementation. These deliberate interventions are necessary for improving our state criminal justice system.

However, there remains a failure to adopt long-term front end” policies that will reduce the number of individuals who enter our criminal justice system. Our state will not solve its public safety challenges by simply building more prisons and jails, relying on unnecessary incarceration. In particular, CJCJ is very concerned about the Governor’s proposed $500 million for additional jail construction. Instead, the state should explore local model practices that achieve the goals of long-term public safety while not relying on local incarceration. We are also concerned about the lack of accountability measures connected to the Governor’s SB 105 $80 million recidivism reduction fund. This fund would be made available for reentry services should the federal court approve California’s petition for a two year extension on meeting the population cap. There must be appropriate oversight and transparency in how these funds are allocated, to maximize their effectiveness.

The Governor must also take decisive action on sentencing reform and strengthening alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenses. California can begin this process by creating a sentencing commission to review areas for reform. Governor Brown should also work to develop policies that reduce sentencing penalties for low-level offenses, particularly non-violent drug offenses.

Unfortunately, juvenile justice policy is noticeably absent from the Governor’s budget. The budget fails to recognize significant challenges at California’s shrinking state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF). It projects a youth population of 645 in 2014 – 15 at a total cost of $178,768,000. The DJF youth population has reduced significantly and counties have assumed greater responsibility for their high-needs youth. Yet Governor Brown has made no effort to address the unsustainable, long-term cost of this system. DJF does not best serve our state, nor does it adequately serve our youth. Inevitably, one of the three remaining DJF facilities will close as the population continues to decline. The Governor should encourage and support local solutions for justice-involved youth, such as the previously operated Fouts Springs program. Intensive local programs and facilities can provide the critical reentry services necessary for high-needs youth to succeed when they return to our communities. The state facilities cannot and will not be able to provide those services in the foreseeable future. By investing in county-managed options, California can save costs and see improved results as compared to the state system.

We remain optimistic that California can implement the reforms identified in the Governor’s budget, while recognizing the state still has much work to do to develop a sustainable and effective public safety agenda. CJCJ looks forward to working with Governor Brown and other justice leaders in 2014 to create a 21st-century justice system that promotes better outcomes all Californians.