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California State Capitol Building

Photo by jorgecasar | flickr creative common

California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) is arguably one of the most powerful criminal justice agencies in the state, yet frequently struggles with fulfilling its position of leadership and supporting innovation. The agency currently oversees $2.5 billion in facility construction grants and hundreds of millions in programs grants to counties. Moreover, the BSCC is responsible for developing statewide regulations, collecting data, and inspecting criminal and juvenile justice facilities. With the recent passage of Proposition 47, the agency has assumed even greater responsibility.

On February 12, the BSCC Board met in Ventura and heard recommendations from advocates, researchers and community-based organizations about the need for greater transparency and inclusivity in agency decision-making. These included representatives from the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Children’s Defense Fund — California, National Center for Youth Law, PICO California, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and others.

At the beginning of the meeting, BSCC Executive Director Kathleen Howard updated the Board on the ongoing implementation of Proposition 47. Proposition 47, passed in November 2014, is a significant justice reform in California that reclassified seven non-serious and non-violent offenses to misdemeanors, including drug possession. The reform is retroactive, which could result in resentencing for tens of thousands of Californians, and has already reduced jail and prison populations. The initiative also created the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, which will receive annual state savings accrued because of reduced prison populations as a result of Proposition 47. The BSCC will be responsible for allocating 65 percent of these state cost savings,

To public agencies aimed at supporting mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and diversion programs for people in the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on programs that reduce recidivism of people convicted of less serious crimes, such as those covered by this measure, and those who have substance abuse and mental health problems.”

The agency will utilize an executive steering committee (ESC) to develop the subsequent Request for Proposals (RFP) and make funding recommendations to the Board for approval.

Many in the audience provided public comment requesting that the BSCC incorporate a broad array of voices on the subsequent ESC, including advocates, community groups, formerly incarcerated persons, mental health professionals, and researchers. Moreover, the public requested future Proposition 47 cost savings be prioritized for community-based programs that address recidivism through employment services, drug treatment, juvenile justice programs, and mental health.

The Board also heard a request from two juvenile justice committees within the agency for more regular juvenile justice agenda items at future meetings. As previously noted, the agency oversees key elements of county criminal and juvenile justice systems. Despite this broad responsibility, substantial juvenile justice issues are infrequently part of meeting agendas, let alone the broader discussion. Widespread public comment encouraged the Board to approve this recommendation, highlighting the substantial changes in California’s juvenile justice system amid juvenile realignment and greater understanding of trauma-informed care, positive youth development, and community-based alternatives to incarceration. Ultimately, the Board recognized this enthusiastic response and approved a motion to have regular juvenile justice updates.

These represent positive developments, driven by key leaders on the BSCC Board and successful public engagement and comment. For the agency to truly meet its leadership mandate, the agency must continue to utilize transparent processes that are inclusive of those communities most impacted by their decisions. The next BSCC Board meeting is on April 9 in Sacramento and public attendance is strongly encouraged.