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Just the FACTS

California's County Jails

  • California has a large number of diverse—and aging—county jail facilities.
    California’s counties operate several types of jails, including court holding facilities, temporary holding facilities, and long-term facilities. All counties except Alpine operate at least one long-term facility, for a total of 123 facilities across the state. Almost half were built before 1980.
  • The jail population is largely male, awaiting or on trial, and accused or convicted of a felony.
    Men make up the vast majority of the jail population (87%). More than 62% of inmates are either awaiting trial or have yet to be sentenced. Inmates held on either a felony charge or conviction account for 88% of the jail population.
  • Corrections realignment created new pressures on county jails.
    Since realignment began in October 2011, county jails have had oversight over non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual felons and parolees who violate their parole. Before realignment, the maximum stay in county jail was one year. Now that lower-level felons go to county jail, this practice has changed—there is no limit on the amount of time these offenders can serve. As of early 2014, county jails housed 1,761 inmates serving sentences of more than five years—up 606 from 2013. Inmate assaults on jail staff have also increased steadily since realignment, from 513 in the first half of 2011 to 691 in the first half of 2014.
  • After an extended period of decline, the jail population is now growing.
    After reaching a high of 84,275 inmates in September 2007, the monthly average daily jail population declined quite steadily to a low of 69,406 in May 2011—a decrease of 17.6%, or 14,869 inmates. After realignment, the jail population began to rise; as of June 2014—about four months before the passage of Proposition 47—it stood at 83,280 inmates, a gain of 20% from May 2011.
  • As a result, county jail systems face crowding problems …
    As of June 2014, the statewide average daily jail population was about 3,428 inmates over the rated capacity of 79,855 inmates, set by the California Board of State and Community Corrections. Of the state’s 123 jails, 75 were at 90% of rated capacity or above—and 51 were above rated capacity. Also, 38 facilities across 20 counties were under court-ordered population caps. To address these capacity constraints, counties released 8,294 pre-sentenced inmates and 5,708 sentenced inmates in June 2014; these monthly numbers were up 1,507 and 2,127 inmates, respectively, from September 2011.
  • … but the state is providing assistance to expand capacity.
    California has made $2.2 billion available for county jail construction. Funding programs in AB 900 (2007), SB 1022 (2012), and SB 863 (2014) are paying for an estimated 14,000 new jail beds across the state. In addition to new or replacement jail beds, counties will have much-needed space for medical, educational, and other services that can help prepare inmates for successful reentry into the community.
  • Proposition 47 might also help ease overcrowding.
    Voters approved Proposition 47 in November 2014, reclassifying several low-level property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The measure also allows offenders convicted when these crimes were felonies to apply for resentencing. Some predict that Proposition 47 will reduce county jail populations. But counties may decide to cut back on capacity-constrained releases or to incarcerate dangerous offenders charged with misdemeanors. As new data become available, it will be important to track Proposition 47’s impact on jail populations.

Sources: (1) Jail Profile Survey 2002–2014, BSCC Rated Capacity by Facility and Jail Construction Date: Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC). (2), Survey of Long Term Jail Inmates—April, 2014: California State Sheriff’s Association.


Magnus Lofstrom
Senior Fellow
Brandon Martin
Research Associate
County Jail populations are nearing their September 2007 peak
Capacity-constrained releases have risen but are still below historical highs