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California’s Jail Construction Needs

Brandon Martin May 9, 2014

The governor’s proposal to spend $500 million for local jail construction raised many questions at a hearing Thursday of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on public safety. In testimony to the committee, PPIC research associate Brandon Martin answered many of the questions from a report released this week, Key Factors in California’s Jail Construction Needs. The report describes the increase in jail crowding since responsibility for tens of thousands of offenders was shifted to counties. The report also looks at the age and condition of jails and the challenge of housing a changing inmate population. Here are his prepared remarks.


Good afternoon. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to comment. My name is Brandon Martin and I am a research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California. For those who are not familiar with PPIC, we are a nonpartisan, independent research institute focused on major policy issues in California. PPIC does not take positions on legislation.

PPIC released a report yesterday—entitled Key Factors in California’s Jail Construction Needs—that focuses on three factors: recent changes in jail population, aging jail facilities, and long-term jail capacity needs.

  • Our study describes the impact of realignment on jail populations. As of June 2013, the average daily population in jails statewide was just under 82,000, or 105 percent of the maximum number of inmates that the state’s county jails were designed to hold, which is around 77,000. This represents an increase of nearly 10,000 inmates since September 2011. Thirty-six counties had an average daily jail population that exceeded 90 percent of rated capacity, twenty-one of those counties operated over 100 percent of rated capacity.
  • Our study also looks at the age of local jail facilities and finds that nearly half—or 56 of California’s 123 county jails—were constructed in the 1970s or earlier. County officials point out that older facilities can be quite limited in their ability to provide medical and mental health care, reentry programming, or recreational services, particularly for longer-term inmates.
    • Our calculations indicate that it could cost more than $3 billion (not including bond financing costs) to replace the 18 oldest facilities, which were built in the 1950s or earlier.
  • Looking to the future, our study outlines the impact of recent investments on jail capacity. As a result of AB 900 and SB 1022, we estimate the number of counties operating above rated capacity is projected to decline from 21 to 15 by 2020.
  • But we also anticipate that statewide population growth will bring crowding conditions to current levels and beyond between now and 2040, especially in fast-growing inland counties such as Fresno, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Joaquin.
  • We estimate that it could cost about $1.2 billion (not including bond financing costs) between now and 2040 to add enough capacity—4,300 beds—to allow jails statewide to operate at the challenging level of 100 percent of rated capacity.

Given the magnitude of California’s current and future jail challenges, our analysis suggests the need for a thoughtful combination of additional jail construction—with a focus on old and ineffective facilities—and policies and practices that reduce incarceration.

Thank you for your time. I am happy to answer any questions the committee may have.

Topics: Corrections

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