June 8, 2012
For most Californians, the word “realignment” probably brings to mind something a mechanic does to keep their cars from pulling to one side or the other. In fact, it refers to a major policy shift the Legislature initiated last year: the transfer of several public safety, health, and human services programs – along with a dedicated source of funding – from the state to the counties beginning in 2011-12, as we explain in our new report. The public safety side of realignment has gotten the most media attention, and for good reason. Counties’ new responsibilities for managing, supervising, and rehabilitating “low-level” offenders and parolees will transform the state’s criminal justice system over the next several years as well as bring down state spending on prisons. Nonetheless, a little-known fact about realignment is that nearly two-thirds of the dollars – $3.9 billion out of $5.9 billion in 2012-13 – support health and human services programs, including Child Welfare Services, Foster Care, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services.
While realignment is intended to be permanent, the current framework was adopted with the understanding that the Legislature and voters would need to finalize the details this year. That’s why state lawmakers and Governor Brown are now working on a long-term framework that is likely to be included in the final 2012-13 budget agreement. It’s also why the Governor has proposed a ballot measure for November 2012 that would place key realignment provisions in the state Constitution in order to ensure that counties will receive ongoing funding as well as to provide counties and the state with protections against certain unanticipated costs. These protections, along with the legislation currently under consideration, are central to building a long-term framework for realignment in 2012 and beyond.
– Scott Graves
September 15, 2011
A groundbreaking change adopted as part of the 2011-12 budget agreement is about to take effect: Beginning October 1, counties will assume responsibility for “low-level” criminal offenders, which generally refers to individuals who have committed non-violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes. As we describe in a new report that looks at state spending on corrections, this historic “realignment” of responsibility – along with a dedicated source of funding – from the state to the counties is intended to divert, over the next few years, tens of thousands of men and women from the state’s overcrowded prisons.
Transferring low-level offenders to county custody and supervision is partly a response to rising state corrections expenditures and the costly cycling of non-violent felons through state prisons. Our new report shows that state spending on corrections has increased by nearly 1,500 percent over the past generation, more than four times the rate of General Fund spending as a whole. Shifting low-level offenders to county supervision has the potential to substantially reduce state corrections spending, thereby reversing the trend of recent decades, in which a larger and larger share of the state budget has gone toward state prisons and parole. Savings could be reinvested in education, child care, health care, and other public services that help build a strong economy and enhance California’s quality of life.
But the benefits of criminal justice realignment go beyond dollars and cents: Realignment gives counties an opportunity and the incentives to focus on substance abuse treatment, basic skills education, and other rehabilitative services that can improve outcomes for offenders and foster public safety. Female offenders would particularly benefit from such a sea change in corrections policy, since more than half of women currently in prison are classified as low risk, serving time for property or drug crimes, as CBP Executive Director Jean Ross pointed out in a recent op-ed co-authored with Rosenberg Foundation President Timothy Silard. Shifting from a predominantly incarceration-based model toward alternatives, however, will require “a significant paradigm shift,” according to the California State Association of Counties: “The successful model will not be an incarceration model, but one that seeks to divert and rehabilitate citizens,” allowing them to become “productive members of our community.” With implementation hinging on the decisions of local officials in 58 counties, Californians across the state have a clear interest in monitoring how this once-in-a-lifetime policy change rolls out over the next several years.
– Scott Graves
June 21, 2010
At a press conference earlier today, Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg released a sweeping proposal that would shift additional program responsibility and dollars from the state to county governments. Done right, we’re very supportive of the concept of realignment. However, as with all things budget related, the devil is in the details. First, successfully realigning program responsibility needs to match “real” money with “real” program costs. Second, it should build on core program capacities and relationships. Third, it should be aimed at delivering quality services in a cost-effective manner.
Based on the “top line” description released by the Senate this morning, it includes a number of promising elements. At least two issues, however, are cause for immediate concern:
- The proposal would shift all CalWORKs child care from the state to counties beginning in the upcoming fiscal year. This is potentially problematic for a number of reasons, including the fact that counties are not currently involved in the administration of large parts of the CalWORKs child care system. This means that they do not have the contracting relationships and systems in place to insure that quality standards are met and federal access and matching requirements are fulfilled, among other challenges. We’re not suggesting that child care should be “off the table,” but a successful realignment of responsibility would entail careful planning and sufficient lead time to ensure that the transition is seamless for both the families and providers that rely on the current system.
- Our second immediate concern is that the proposal scores $500 million of county savings from the implementation of federal health reform beginning in 2013-14. We’re concerned that these savings may be somewhat illusory, given that counties will retain responsibility for providing care to those who will not be covered through the new federal law and the fact that the expansion of coverage provided under federal law will entail a significant “ramp up” period to reach full implementation. While we have high hopes for health reform, the tough work of ensuring that it works and works well for all Californians has just begun and it may be premature to transfer real program costs to counties in return for the promised but as yet unrealized savings from a yet to be implemented new federal law.
As additional details become available, the CBP will analyze the Senate and other major budget proposals, as well as update the side-by-side comparison of major budget proposals released last week here.
– Jean Ross