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Expanding Health Coverage in California: County Jails as Enrollment Sites

By Shannon McConville, Mia Bird

In 2014, the first year of Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation, the number of Californians with health insurance increased substantially. However, millions of state residents continue to lack comprehensive health coverage, and those who remain uninsured are likely more difficult to enroll through traditional strategies.

In this report, we find that uninsured rates are highest for young men and for those with low levels of education, income, and employment. The prevalence of these same characteristics among correctional populations suggests that the justice system—and, in particular, county jails—may offer points of contact for many uninsured individuals who would otherwise be hard to reach.

Outreach and enrollment efforts aimed at local jail populations are set within the policy context of California’s 2011 Public Safety Realignment, which created incentives and resources for local corrections agencies to improve reentry outcomes. With expansions in access to health insurance coverage under the ACA, nearly all counties are establishing programs to provide enrollment assistance to jail inmates as part of a more comprehensive reentry strategy. But resources and capacity are limited, so it is important to identify effective models to maximize the potential of county correctional systems as sites of insurance enrollment.

Report

How Has Proposition 47 Affected California’s Jail Population?

By Sonya Tafoya, Mia Bird, Ryken Grattet, Viet Nguyen

Passed by the voters in 2014, Proposition 47 reduced penalties for certain drug and property crimes. This change led to dramatic declines in the state's jail population, driven by decreases in arrests, convictions, and jail time for Proposition 47 offenders.

This research was supported with funding from The California Endowment.

blog post

Testimony: Bail and Pretrial Detention

By Sonya Tafoya

California’s median bail amount is five times higher than the rest of the nation. Its large urban counties are also more likely than similar counties in the US to hold unsentenced defendants in jail pending trial.

Report

Public Safety Realignment: Impacts So Far

By Magnus Lofstrom, Brandon Martin

Prompted by a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding, California’s 2011 historic public safety realignment shifted many correctional responsibilities for lower-level felons from the state to counties. The reform was premised on the idea that locals can do a better job, and it was hoped that incarceration rates and corrections costs would fall. At the same time, critics predicted crime would rise. Four years since its implementation, realignment has made several important impacts:

  • Realignment significantly reduced the prison population, but the state did not reach the court-mandated population target until after the passage of Proposition 47 in November 2014, which reduced penalties for many property and drug offenses.
  • The reform challenged county jails and probation departments by making them responsible for a greater number of offenders with a broader range of backgrounds and needs.
  • The county jail population did not rise nearly as much as the prison population fell, reducing the total number of people incarcerated in California.
  • Realignment did not increase violent crime, but auto thefts rose.
  • Research so far shows no dramatic change in recidivism rates.
  • State corrections spending remains high, but there is reason to believe expenditures could drop in the future.

Realignment has largely been successful, but the state and county correctional systems face significant challenges. The state needs to regain control of prison medical care, which is now in the hands of a federal receiver. And the state and counties together must make progress in reducing stubbornly high recidivism rates.

Report

Pretrial Detention and Jail Capacity in California

By Sonya Tafoya

California’s persistently overcrowded jails are facing additional challenges now that public safety realignment has shifted many lower-level offenders from state prisons to county supervision. Jail capacity challenges are prompting a reconsideration of California’s heavy reliance on holding unsentenced defendants in jail pending trial—known as pretrial detention. The legal rationale for pretrial detention is to ensure court appearances and preserve public safety. But California’s high rates of pretrial detention have not been associated with lower rates of failure to appear or lower levels of felony rearrests. This report concludes that pretrial services programs—if properly implemented and embraced by the courts, probation, and the jails—could address jail overcrowding and improve the efficiency, equitability, and transparency of pretrial release decision making.

Report

Realignment, Incarceration, and Crime Trends in California

By Steven Raphael, Magnus Lofstrom

When California’s historic public safety realignment was implemented in October 2011, many were concerned about the impact it would have on crime rates. In a 2013 report, we found that realignment did not increase violent crime in its first year, but that it did lead to an increase in auto thefts. In this report, we assess whether these trends continued beyond realignment’s first year. We find that both the prison and jail populations increased slightly since 2012, which means that the number of offenders on the street did not rise from the 18,000 during realignment’s first year. This is likely to change with the implementation of Proposition 47, which further reduces California’s reliance on incarceration. Our analysis of updated state-level crime data from the FBI confirms our previous findings. Violent crime rates remain unaffected by realignment, and although California’s property crime rate decreased in 2013, it did not drop more than in comparable states—so the auto theft gap that opened up in 2012 has not closed. Research indicates that further reductions in incarceration may have a greater effect on crime trends; the state needs to implement effective crime prevention strategies—and it can learn about alternatives to incarceration successfully implemented by the counties as well as other states.

Report

Alternatives to Incarceration in California

By Ryken Grattet, Brandon Martin

Three-plus years after implementing a major realignment of its public safety systems, California continues to face pressure to reduce both its prison and jail populations. California relied on some alternatives to custody-based punishment before realignment but it has been expanding its use of others. Current research on the effects of incarceration and its alternatives offers a general endorsement of the idea that increasing reliance on community-based alternatives is not likely to result in large increases in crime and recidivism. The evidence suggests that the effectiveness of both incarceration and community-based supervision depends on a number of factors, including the rate of incarceration in a given community, the offender characteristics, and the nature of the response to violations during and after supervision. Finally, intensive data collection on county implementation efforts can help the state identify the community-based strategies that produce the best outcomes.

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