Tried and Tested Ways of Reducing Jail Overcrowding

November 24, 2014

On November 4, California voters approved Proposition 47, a measure that downgrades certain low-level offenses to misdemeanors, thereby limiting the sentence for those crimes to a maximum of one year in county jail. CBP’s analysis of Proposition 47 concluded that this reduction in length of stay could not only lessen the harm that incarceration causes to an individual’s physical and mental health, but could also alleviate jail overcrowding by thousands of beds each year.

This potential for reducing jail-capacity needs should come as good news to state officials, given that California has invested $1.7 billion since 2007 to build new jails or replace and expand old ones, in part to address jail overcrowding. Indeed, the 2014-15 budget agreement provides an additional $500 million for jail construction, despite concern expressed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office that such added capacity may not be necessary.

While passage of Proposition 47 is expected to help address jail overcrowding, counties could potentially build on this key advance by more fully using several other alternatives to incarceration that reduce jail populations while fostering public safety:

  • Counties could employ validated risk-assessment tools to ensure that only individuals who pose a high risk to public safety are detained in their jails. Contra Costa County has been able to manage its jail population through a combination of several strategies, including use of a risk-assessment tool to determine what level of supervision and services people in their jail require. According to a recent study, Contra Costa County has achieved lower rates of incarceration than the rest of the state along with a decrease in crime that mirrors the statewide trend.
  • Counties could reduce the number of people detained in jail prior to their court date by providing alternative supervision in the community. Santa Cruz County created the Jail Alternatives Initiative in 2004 to address a grand jury report pointing to unsafe conditions in the local jail due to overcrowding. The initiative established a pretrial services program that uses five different types of release based on the needs of the individual. This has allowed the county to maintain lower numbers of people in jail awaiting their court date compared to the rest of California.
  • Counties could perform a comprehensive analysis of who is serving time in their jails to identify populations that would be better served through community-based programs. The City and County of San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has been collaborating with local nonprofit organizations since the 1980s to develop alternatives to detention for populations with specialized needs. In particular, a growing number of homeless individuals were not eligible for release from jail while they were waiting for their court date because they did not have an address. Additionally, homeless populations are particularly vulnerable to high-risk health factors, such as infectious diseases, problematic drug use, and mental health issues. A local nonprofit created the Homeless Release Project, which identified transient individuals who were detained pretrial for misdemeanor crimes and linked them with housing, medical care, mental health and drug treatment, and other necessary services. A preliminary study of the program found that participants were less likely to reoffend or to commit more serious crimes, and the project was subsequently consolidated into a larger scheme of pretrial services.

Now that Proposition 47 has passed, counties will have to consider what effect it may have on their jail populations and determine whether they really do need further construction funding. But at the same time, the state board that will administer the new state funding for added jail capacity should consider whether counties have fully embraced available population-management strategies when evaluating applications for construction dollars.

— Selena Teji


Statement From Chris Hoene on the New LAO Forecast: “California Must Continue to Reinvest”

November 20, 2014

Yesterday, Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget Project, released the following statement in response to the new long-term fiscal forecast from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO):

“The new budget forecast from the Legislative Analyst’s Office is encouraging on some key fronts, with the economy continuing to recover and the state regaining its financial footing. California’s public K-12 schools and its community colleges are expected to see additional dollars, both in the current budget year and looking ahead to 2015-16.

“We also see in this forecast that state policymakers have the opportunity to significantly rebuild support for other vital public services, while continuing to save for a rainy day and pay down state debts. Especially in light of a recovery that has failed to reach so many individuals and families, California must continue to reinvest in child care and preschool, the CSU and UC systems, support for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, and the other foundations of a strong economy and healthy communities.”

Missing the Mark on Transparency: State Board Set to Approve Spending Rules for New Education Funding Formula

November 13, 2014

After several meetings and much debate over the past year, the State Board of Education (SBE) is expected to finalize rules tomorrow that will govern school district spending in California for years to come. When Governor Brown and the Legislature created California’s new education funding formula, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), in July of 2013 they deferred to the SBE key decisions regarding accountability — specifically, how to ensure that school districts spend LCFF dollars to provide additional services for disadvantaged students. Earlier this year, the SBE adopted emergency regulations for how schools could spend LCFF dollars in 2013-14. These temporary rules inspired a spirited debate that led to tomorrow’s expected adoption by the SBE of permanent LCFF spending regulations. At the core of this debate has been how to strike the balance between ensuring that LCFF dollars are used to support the disadvantaged students for whom they are intended and providing school districts more authority over how to spend those dollars. The proposed permanent regulations the SBE is likely to adopt tomorrow both gives school districts greater latitude over how to spend LCFF dollars and requires them to show less about how they spend those dollars than many advocates for disadvantaged students had wanted.

The law establishing the LCFF required the SBE to adopt regulations that govern the spending of dollars intended to support disadvantaged students as well as a template for a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which school districts must use to show compliance with LCFF spending rules. During the past several months, the SBE has held hearings on the proposed spending regulations and the LCAP template. In response to extensive public comment and testimony, the Board made several improvements to the regulations, such as requiring a higher level of student participation in the development of LCAPs. However, although advocates for disadvantaged students had called for greater transparency, the SBE is expected to adopt regulations tomorrow that will make it difficult for education stakeholders to know whether school districts meet the requirement to use LCFF dollars generated by disadvantaged students to increase or improve services for these students.

As we blogged about in advance of the first meeting where the SBE took action on LCFF’s spending rules, we believe the regulations should have abided by two important principles: establishing a baseline and ensuring transparency. For stakeholders to understand the extent to which LCFF dollars are used to support disadvantaged students, the regulations should require school districts to clearly report a baseline spending level. While the regulations the SBE is expected to adopt tomorrow do require school districts to use prior-year spending on disadvantaged students as a starting point for estimating the level of support going forward, they do not require transparent reporting of this baseline level of spending. Unfortunately, the SBE rejected requests for this basic level of transparency in its response to comments that had been submitted by several advocates for disadvantaged students. As a result, local stakeholder engagement will be critical to ensure that the LCFF dollars generated by disadvantaged students are used to support them. For example, parent advisory committees could use the requirement that school districts respond in writing to their requests for information — during the process of adopting or updating LCAPs — in order to get information on the local use of LCFF dollars.

The next stage of LCFF rulemaking requires the SBE to adopt evaluation rubrics to assess school district and schoolsite performance based on standards established by the SBE. The Legislature required the SBE to adopt evaluation rubrics by October 1, 2015, and the Board has already established a process for receiving feedback. Hopefully, the decisions made in developing the evaluation rubrics will provide education stakeholders the information they need to know whether the LCFF is fulfilling the promise to improve education for the disadvantaged students who need those improvements the most.

— Jonathan Kaplan

Today We Honor Our Veterans, but What About Tomorrow?

November 11, 2014

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have exposed over two million Americans to the rigors of military training as well as to warfare conditions. A new study of veterans in Los Angeles found that many returning veterans are not prepared to transition to civilian life and require culturally competent approaches to helping them reenter society. In particular:

  • The study surveyed nearly 1,200 pre- and post-9/11 veterans from all military sectors residing in Los Angeles County. Of the post-9/11 veterans, 41 percent were age 30 or younger, 34 percent had at least a four-year college degree, the vast majority received an honorable discharge from service, and almost three-quarters were people of color.
  • More than one in five post-9/11 veterans had an annual income below or nearly below the federal poverty line.
  • Forty percent of post-9/11 veterans reported being homeless in the past year. This includes veterans who slept in a transitional residence — like a shelter, friend or family member’s home, motel, jail, or hospital — as well as in a public place.
  • Twenty-four percent of post-9/11 veterans reported suffering from severe physical health symptoms, and just under a quarter had been screened positive for a mild traumatic brain injury.
  • Forty-six percent of post-9/11 veterans screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder, 46 percent screened positive for depression, and 15 percent had considered attempting suicide.

Unfortunately, the study also highlighted the failure of service organizations to meet veterans’ needs:

…veteran support agencies are typically organized to support only one or two of these issues. For instance, it is typical to see ‘campaigns’ targeting veteran employment or housing, while ignoring health and education (including skills training and deployment), assuming, often incorrectly, that other agencies are meeting the veterans’ needs in these areas. […] Service providers must recognize that a holistic approach to veteran support is needed, and that they most likely only represent one or two parts of that approach, and maybe not even the most important part, depending on the needs of the veteran.

Unaddressed homelessness, physical and mental health issues, and chronic unemployment put veterans at risk of contact with the criminal justice system. Although reliable data are scarce, a 2013 study found that in 18 randomly selected states, between 2 and 20 percent of the prison population reported having veteran status. The study reviewed more recent localized data and concluded that the proportion of incarcerated individuals who are veterans is rising. The analysis also raised the concern that veteran courts — specialized alternative court systems for veterans — may not be responsive to the complexity of the problem. The study stressed the importance of understanding the often lasting effects of military service that shape veterans’ behavior and yet are often overlooked by the courts and treatment teams.

These studies emphasize the importance of recognizing the unique needs of our veterans and the absence of comprehensive public services and supports to address them. Service agencies must make a commitment to working collaboratively to support individuals returning from the military.

— Selena Teji

Five Years Later, State Cuts to Assistance for Low-Income Seniors and People With Disabilities Remain in Place

November 3, 2014

One of California’s most important public supports for seniors and people with disabilities who struggle to make ends meet marks a dubious 5th anniversary this month. In November 2009, state policymakers put into effect the third in a rapid series of cuts to Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) grants, which are funded with both federal (SSI) and state (SSP) dollars. These state cuts reduced the monthly SSP grant for couples from $568 in January 2009 to $396 by November of that same year. The monthly SSP grant for individuals fell from $233 at the outset of 2009 to $171 by November. Less than two years later — in July 2011 — state policymakers put in place an additional $15-per-month cut, dropping the SSP grant for individuals to $156 per month. (For an overview of these state cuts and their impact, see this recent CBP presentation.)

The SSP cuts in 2009 came as the Great Recession gripped California and state lawmakers looked for ways to reduce spending in the face of a two-year, $60 billion budget shortfall. Today, although the state’s economy and finances have been slowly recovering from the downturn, low-income Californians who rely on SSI/SSP cash assistance have been left behind. While the SSI portion of the grant has modestly increased in recent years due to federal cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), the state’s SSP portion remains frozen at recession-era levels: $396 for couples and $156 for individuals, the minimum levels allowed by federal law. Why haven’t SSP grants gone up? Because — in addition to reducing SSP grants in 2009 — state policymakers eliminated the annual state COLA. As a result, the state’s portion has not been increased to reflect changes in California’s cost of living over the past several years.

Without a doubt, these budget cuts substantially lowered the state’s costs for SSI/SSP. In 2007-08, the year the Great Recession struck, the state spent about $3.8 billion on its share of SSI/SSP cash assistance (in 2014-15 dollars). Fast forward seven years: California will spend a projected $2.5 billion on SSI/SSP grants in the current fiscal year — more than one-third below the 2007-08 level. This substantial drop in state spending has occurred even as the number of Californians enrolled in SSI/SSP has increased, rising by 6 percent — to 1.3 million — since 2007-08.

But these state “savings” have come at a tremendous cost to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. SSI/SSP cash assistance once uniformly lifted recipients out of poverty, but no more: Today’s maximum grant for individuals equals just 90 percent of the federal poverty line, jeopardizing the ability of seniors and people with disabilities who rely on these grants to afford basic necessities such as food and housing. The value of SSI/SSP grants has fallen so sharply in recent years that the state’s SSP portion would have to increase by nearly $100 per month in order to bring the total grant for individuals up to the 2014 poverty line.


Five years ago, in the midst of a severe budget crisis, the state made a series of deep cuts to SSI/SSP grants. The question now — for state policymakers as well as the general public — is whether these reductions, which target some of California’s most vulnerable residents, should be temporary or permanent.

— Scott Graves

Looking Ahead, State Must Go Much Further in Boosting Payments to Child Care Providers

October 31, 2014

The Senate Select Committee on Women and Inequality convened last week in Los Angeles to explore strategies for promoting economic opportunity for women in California. Throughout this hearing, the importance of child care was a recurring theme. As Senator Holly Mitchell discussed, the state’s 2014-15 spending plan includes some reinvestment in the state’s child care and development system, including an increase in child care provider payment rates.

Provider payment rates are a key issue in helping women and their families to advance. Adequately reimbursing child care providers increases families’ access to providers. When women have access to affordable child care, they are more likely to find and keep jobs and to have money to pay for other necessities such as rent and groceries. This is critical for their own economic success and for the well-being of their children, too. Policymakers had not raised provider payment rates since 2006, and the recently approved increase is long overdue.

However, policymakers have more work to do, especially for families who use vouchers to pay for child care (as opposed to going to child care providers that contract directly with the state). Even with the rate increase included in the budget agreement, scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2015, voucher-based providers offering care in licensed family child care homes (LFCH) will not see an increase in their payment rates for infant care in more than half of California counties. Similarly, these providers will not see an increase in rates for preschool-age children in 19 counties. In fact, across the state so few counties will see an increase that the median percent increase for LFCHs for infant care is 0 percent. For preschool-age children the median percent increase is just 1.2 percent.

In addition, even while it might appear that licensed child care centers (LCCs) fared well in the budget agreement, the median increase in the provider payment rates for infant care at LCCs translates to just $131 a month — and this after nearly a decade without any rate increase. Likewise, the median rate increase for preschool-age children in LCCs is $103 per month. The table below displays how both kinds of licensed providers fared in the 2014-15 budget cycle. (You can also view a PDF of this table here. )

103014 childcare-reimbursement-blog

As we discussed in a recent blog post, California has far to go in restoring funding to the child care and development system in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Access to subsidized child care and preschool programs is a key component in helping families achieve economic security, and it is critical that policymakers continue to take steps to reinvest in California’s child care and development system.

— Kristin Schumacher

Lack of Affordable Housing Contributes to California’s High Poverty Rate

October 28, 2014

Poverty is more prevalent in California than in any other state, according to recently released US Census Bureau data. Nearly one-quarter of Californians (23.4 percent) lived in poverty each year, on average, between 2011 and 2013, based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) — a more accurate indicator of economic well-being than the traditional poverty rate. Only Nevada’s poverty rate, at 20.0 percent, comes close to California’s under the SPM, while the poverty rates of all other states fall at or below about 19 percent, reaching as low as 8.7 percent in Iowa.

California’s high housing costs help explain why the state has the highest SPM poverty rate in the nation. Unlike the traditional poverty rate, the SPM takes into account local housing costs: poverty thresholds — the incomes below which families are considered to be living in poverty — are higher where housing costs are higher, reflecting the fact that families typically spend more in these high-cost areas to keep a roof over their heads. For example, the SPM poverty threshold is $24,336 for a four-person family who rents their home in a California metropolitan area, compared with $19,985 for a comparable family in an Oklahoma metro area. SPM thresholds also vary within California: In the San Francisco metro area, a family of four who rents their home is considered to be living in poverty if their income is below $33,562, while the threshold is much lower — $23,344 — for a similar family in the Merced metro area.

Rising rents have made housing much less affordable in recent years, particularly for families whose wages and incomes haven’t kept pace with the cost of living. The housing market bust helped fuel demand for rentals as people lost their homes or were unable to buy houses due to tighter lending standards, unemployment, or lower incomes. As rental vacancies fell, rental prices spiked. Typical rents increased by more than 20 percent in the metro areas of Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside-San Bernardino, and Fresno between 2006 and 2011, and by more than 10 percent in the Bay Area and Orange County. By 2012, typical rents were higher than they were six years earlier in nearly all of California’s metro areas.

More recently, rapid job growth in California’s major urban areas has caused rents to jump higher, outpacing average wage gains. Typical rents rose by 6 percent or more in six of California’s major metro areas between July 2013 and July 2014. San Francisco, Sacramento, and Oakland saw the greatest increases among the 25 largest rental markets in the US, with typical rents rising by more than 13 percent. In fact, six of the 10 metro areas with the nation’s least affordable rents relative to wages are in California. Los Angeles, for instance, ranks third, after Miami and New York. Workers earning the average wage in LA would have to spend just over half of their earnings to afford the typical rent on a two-bedroom apartment. In Oakland, San Francisco, the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Orange County, typical rents would eat up between 44 percent and 49 percent of the average worker’s earnings.

California’s rental housing affordability crisis is even tougher for workers earning below the average wage. A full-time worker earning San Francisco’s minimum wage of $10.74, for example, would have to spend 83 percent of her income to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the city priced at “fair market rent.” To afford a comparable apartment in LA, a full-time worker earning the state’s minimum wage of $9 per hour would have to spend 69 percent of her income on rent.

Clearly, reducing economic hardship in California will not only take boosting workers’ earnings, as we discussed here, but also increasing access to affordable housing. Watch in the coming weeks for more blog posts on how the state’s lack of affordable housing contributes to poverty.

— Alissa Anderson


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