Calif. Prison Realignment Failed To Result in Savings, Report Finds
A California prison realignment plan implemented four years ago has succeeded in reducing the prison population, but it increased spending on health care improvements and other services that kept the state from saving money, according to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Thompson, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/28).
Background on Realignment
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
To help curb prison overcrowding, the state implemented a realignment plan by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to send inmates convicted of lower-level crimes to county jails (California Healthline, 9/8/14).
Experts predicted that the reforms would cut costs and reduce incarceration rates, but also lead to an increase in crime (PPIC report, September 2015).
Further, California voters in November 2014 approved Proposition 47, which lowered penalties for certain property and drug offenses (Nelson, San Bernardino Sun, 9/28). Specifically, the measure changed six "non-violent, non-serious" crimes from felony charges to misdemeanors (California Healthline, 10/28/14).
While the prison reforms did not spur an increase in violent crimes, they also have not reduced recidivism rates or saved the state money, according to the PPIC report (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/28).
The report found that about 18,000 individuals who previously would have been in prison or jail have been released since the reforms were implemented in October 2011.
The changes reduced the state prison population, but doing so increased county jail populations to near-historic peaks (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/28). In addition, the reduction did not meet the court-ordered level until Proposition 47 passed, under which 10,000 inmates were released from county jails.
Meanwhile, correctional spending in fiscal year 2015-2016 is budgeted at $10.07 billion, up from $9.6 billion in FY 2010-2011 (San Bernardino Sun, 9/28).
Magnus Lofstrom, co-author of the report, attributed the higher costs in large part to federal oversight of prison health care, which has resulted in billions of dollars in spending to improve medical care (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/28).
The report also cited higher costs for medical and mental health care services at county jails.
Brandon Martin, another co-author of the report, added that counties could face even higher costs if they fail to provide adequate levels of care. "We're worried that if [counties] don't provide the services, they'll be sued just like the state was," he said (San Bernardino Sun, 9/28).
Fourth Prison Receives Passing Health Care Grade
In related news, the California Office of the Inspector General gave medical care at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison a passing grade, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
The prison is the fourth in the state to receive a passing grade for medical care from OIG, after:
- Folsom State Prison, which returned to state control in July (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/28);
- The California Rehabilitation Center at Norco, which passed in July (California Healthline, 7/8); and
- The Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, which passed in June (California Healthline, 8/25).
The state can regain control of medical care at Chuckawalla Valley if the federal court-appointed receiver agrees with the assessment (AP/Sacramento Bee, 9/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.