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In his January 7th budget proposal, Governor Brown allocated $250 million for local adult facility construction projects. By proposing a fund for facility enhancements, the governor’s office intends to address inadequate programming space in older county jails. If approved, however, this funding would renew investment in local incarceration and undermine the intent of California voters who expressed their support for reducing jail populations through the 2014 passage of Proposition 47. Expanding facilities could delay efforts to reduce jail populations by diverting attention and resources away from community-based alternatives and innovative reforms such as pretrial services and bail reform.

This $250 million expenditure would represent the fourth such major construction outlay for local adult facilities since 2007, adding to the $2.2 billion that has already been spent by the state. Previous construction grants were awarded to counties across three funding programs and in four distinct stages – Assembly Bill (AB) 900 in 2007 awarded $1.2 billion through two rounds of funding, while 2012’s Senate Bill (SB) 1022 and 2014’s SB 863 each allocated $500 million for upgrades, programming space enhancements, and expanded capacity. When completed, the projects funded through these grants are expected to increase county jail capacity by thousands of beds.

Moreover, the use of state dollars for new construction is out of step with current trends in crime and incarceration. As reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, both violent crime and property crime rates have fallen in California, particularly since 2012, suggesting that the need for jail beds may be declining (Figure 1). Furthermore, Proposition 47, which took effect in November 2014, is predicted to lessen the strain on secure jail facilities by freeing up 10,000 to 30,000 beds throughout the state. Data from the first quarter of 2015 already indicate sizeable reductions in jail populations, with the average daily population of county jails falling by approximately 8,600 people when compared to 2014.

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report

The proposed $250 million in construction funding would be allocated to counties through a process that could be less competitive than previous funding rounds. This is because the governor’s office recommends that grants under the proposed program be made available to counties that have previously received only a partial award or have never received an award from the state for replacing or renovating county jails.” These guidelines would ensure that the majority of award recipients be small counties with populations under 200,000. The full list of eligible counties can be found in Table 1.

*Indicates counties that have received a partial award through previous construction funding grants.

By reducing the number of priority counties from 58 to 20, sheriff’s departments that have not demonstrated a commitment to reducing their jail populations through pretrial services or alternatives to incarceration may be poised to receive full project funding to expand their facilities. This large amount of funding for a relatively small number of eligible counties (especially for small counties which can apply for a maximum of $20 million) could severely limit opportunities for competition.

Competition for funds may be further limited by the role of the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) in selecting winning proposals. The BSCC is a state agency that is often responsible for making important funding decisions for California’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. In the past, the BSCC has failed to establish minimum eligibility standards for counties applying for facility construction funding. Thus, without clear guidelines dictating minimum requirements for counties under the proposed awards program, counties with poor quality applications could receive full funding.

The budget proposal’s $250 million allocation for additional adult facility construction funding would encourage less qualified and less competitive counties to apply for funds, while enhancing the state’s reliance on incarceration. In order to keep pace with trends in crime and incarceration, Governor Brown’s May budget revision should reduce investment in facilities and instead increase support to community-based alternatives that keep Californians safe.