The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday signed off on a push to consider redirecting tens of millions of dollars away from the county’s jail system.
Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor Janice Hahn, seeking a reset in the way AB 109 funding is allocated, shifting its traditional flow to the Sheriff’s Department or probation. Instead, the board will explore how it can go to more treatment-related services, including rehabilitation for people with drug and alcohol problems and mental health issues. Los Angeles County is faced with declining revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The county’s share of state funding to supervise people out of jail early via the state’s realignment program is already taking a $66.6 million hit this year. But officials say that in light of a seismic push for criminal justice reform, it might be a chance to reset where that funding goes.
“We haven’t taken a l time to really look at the way we spend these funds,” Hahn said Tuesday. “Now is our moment.” In 2011, California’s Legislature approved AB 109, an attempt to decrease the state’s prison population. But it put the burden on counties’ sheriff and probation departments to house inmates in their facilities and to also supervise released low-level offenders. With the responsibility came some cash from the state, this year expected to be around $400 million. But the pandemic has changed things. State and county budgets are taking huge financial hits from lost sales tax revenue because of business shutdowns to halt the spread of COVID-19.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva began releasing inmates at the county’s jails to help contain the spread of the virus. In a matter of months, the inmate population went from 17,000 pre-COVID-19 to less than 12,000 now. “It is time to rethink at the way the County spends AB 109 Community Corrections revenue and think about whether the spending breakdown aligns with the future vision that we have for the county,” reads Hahn’s motion, which set forth a renewed examination among several county departments of how the county uses AB 109 funding.
Such a move might not have been doable this time last year, and certainly not when the the legislation was approved. AB 109 became law amid a different-looking Board of Supervisors, with different political incentives. Since then, the county has slowly reimagined its criminal justice system.
In 2015, the board created the Office of Diversion and Reentry, to divert people with mental illness. Four years later, the Board started the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup, which included representatives from county departments and the community. They spent nearly a year hammering out recommendations for a countywide system of care that goes beyond just locking someone up. The idea now is to offer treatment. In March, before the toll of the virus and the shutdown had taken root, when the board heard hundreds of personal accounts in favor of “Care First, Jails Last,” a county plan that seeks to make incarceration “a last resort” and treatment a first priority.
Officials point to studies that show serious disparities in the county’s incarcertation system.
- About 9% of the population is Black, but African Americans comprise 29% of people in county jails.
- Latino people make up 49% of the population, but they are 52% of the county’s incarcerated population.
- Black and Latina women are 49% of the county’s population. But they make up 75% of the women in the county’s jails. “This is a long time coming,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “The way AB 109 funds are spent now, does not reflect the board’s priorities.”
By RYAN CARTER | firstname.lastname@example.org | Daily News PUBLISHED: June 23, 2020