Guest Commentary: Now Is the Time to Right Size and Redirect Yolo County Criminal Justice Spending

By Don Saylor

On September 29, 2020, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors will adopt our 2020-21 Budget. This will be an update of the June budget to reflect year end fund balances, state budget actions, and updated fiscal projections. This year, the Final Budget will also address reduced revenues and expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, allocation of CARES Act funds, and the related shifts in the economy. We will consider an operating budget of about $736 million and capital investments of $50 million. This includes County General Fund of $91 million, about $7 million more than in our June preliminary budget.

Budgets are tangible expressions of our values. Our shared values call on us to invest in children and youth, housing affordability, climate resilience, broadband access, support for vulnerable populations, health equity and social justice, and strengthening local businesses and our communities.

With continued fiscal uncertainty and a growing consensus that change must happen, Yolo County must reexamine our focus on criminal justice. Of the $91 million in General Fund (GF) expenditures proposed for 2020-21, $43 million or 48% is for the four Law and Justice departments, including the District Attorney, Probation, Public Defender, and Sheriff. Of the total $50 million in capital outlay, $46 million is for construction of jail facilities.

General Fund criminal justice spending is growing faster than the GF overall and is eating an ever-larger share of our discretionary revenue.  The County GF cost for criminal justice has increased from $27 million in 2014-15 to $43 million in 2020-21.  This increase of $16 million is a 59% uptick compared to an overall county GF increase of $24 million or 35% from 2014-15.  While these departments consumed 40% of all GF dollars in 2014-15, they demand 49% of every GF dollar this year.  Two-thirds of every new GF dollar since 2014-15 has been directed to criminal justice departments. Incredibly, these cost increases correspond with reduced numbers of incarcerations in our jail and juvenile detention facility, and reductions in felony trials.

We must examine the following Law and Justice topics closely as part of our 2020-21 Final Budget adoption and in the coming months.  Taken alone or in combination, these topics could lead to significant reinvestment in our communities.

Leinberger Jail Replacement Project Should be Cancelled. The 2020-21 budget includes $33 million in state and local funds to replace the out of date and deteriorating Leinberger jail facility. Once constructed, this replacement structure will require annual GF operational expenses of approximately $1 million each year that are not warranted based on current and foreseen levels of need for jail beds.

During the last recession, this facility was closed.  It only reopened in 2011 to prepare for an expected uptick in jail population related to AB 109.  On July 7, 2020, I made a motion to halt this project.  While that motion failed passage, the Board directed our staff to return with an assessment of need for this facility replacement including projected need for jail beds. That assessment has not yet been presented to the Board. I believe this facility replacement is simply not needed due to the positive results of criminal justice reforms established in Assembly Bill 109 in 2011 and Propositions 47 and 57.  The overwhelming majority of all stays in our jail have historically been for people awaiting trial. The no-cash bail practice now in place has dramatically reduced our jail population. This will continue with the risk assessment in lieu of cash bail under Proposition 25 on the November 2020 ballot The overall jail campus in Woodland has sufficient space for the population for the foreseeable future, especially in light of the mostly vacant Juvenile Detention Facility, located on the same campus.

Juvenile Detention Facility (JDF) Should be Repurposed. As a result of more effective community measures, the JDF is operating at far lower capacity than designed and should be repurposed. We can invest in more community programming and contract with other counties for the small number of juveniles who are best served in secure settings. The JDF has capacity for 90 juveniles in three 30-bed pods. Over the first 267 days of 2020, the average daily population of juveniles in custody at the JDF was 6.6. Through the first 267 days of the year, the daily population was 10 or more on only 20 days.  The most recent day with 10 or more juveniles was March 23. The JDF operated at five or less on 89 of the first 267 days. Operating the facility at this low capacity is very challenging and cost prohibitive.  The annual cost of operations for the JDF is about $3 million from the County General Fund.

On June 12, 2019, the Davis Enterprise published an opinion piece drafted by me and another Supervisor calling for repurposing the JDF. Through 2020, a portion of the JDF has been used for temporary space during the remodeling of the adult Monroe jail facility.  That construction is nearing completion. We will be working this year to develop a vision for use of the JDF and best practices for juvenile programming both inside JDF and in community settings.  I believe we can find more effective means of addressing the needs of the juveniles who need a secure setting and find better ways to invest much of the $3 million in community youth development programs.  Moreover, the location of the nearly vacant 90-bed JDF facility on the justice campus further calls into question the need for replacing the Leinberger facility.

Community Corrections Budget Should be Aligned with Strategic Plan and Address Evidence Based Activities. The 2020-21 budget includes approximately $9 million in Community Corrections Realignment funds. It also includes about $510,000 in GF to backfill reductions in the CCP revenues. It is past time to align available CCP revenue with the initial goals of this program, evidence-based practices, and our own Strategic Plan. The provisions of Assembly Bill 109 adopted in 2011 reduced penalties for certain crimes and realigned public safety funds to transfer responsibilities and funding from the state corrections system to local counties in order to stop the costly, ineffective and unsafe “revolving door” of incarceration of lower-level offenders and parole violators. Under AB 109, each county is required to establish a Community Corrections Partnership and an Executive Committee comprised of justice agency representatives.  Each CCP is required to develop a three-year Strategic Plan and an annual expenditure budget that is subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors. As we entered the 2020-21 Budget year, the CCP Strategic Plan was adopted and approved by the Board of Supervisors. In theory, the annual budget would be driven by the strategic plan and would target evidence-based practices to achieve positive outcomes for justice involved persons.  However, the Yolo County CCP Budget has not aligned with the Strategic Plan objectives and continues to fall short of addressing measurable outcomes and evidence-based investments. Each year, there has been discussion of enhancing the use of performance data and each year there is some consideration of whether to allocate the budget based on the Strategic Plan.  Each year, this focus has been deferred as the actual budget for the CCP plan continues to be used as a general revenue stream by the law and justice departments with little accountability to the Board of Supervisors and even less transparency to the public. The 2020-21 budget for the CCP is proposed to spend $9.5 million, including new revenue from the state of $7.8 million and use of fund balance of $1.7 million. This budget uses all remaining fund balance, keeps all existing programs and expenditures in place and directs a modest $145,000 in spending toward the priorities identified in the Strategic Plan adopted June 2020.  In order to meet the reduced level of state funding, the CCP Executive Committee reduced all allocations by an across the board 8% cut regardless of the contribution of the activity to meeting goals of reduced recidivism, offender accountability of community restoration. On September 3, 2020, a motion befor the seven-member CCP Executive Committee budget recommendation was passed with three YES votes (District Attorney, Sheriff, and representative of the Yolo County Police Chiefs), two NO votes (Director of Health and Human Services and Public Defender), and two abstentions (Probation Chief and Administrative Officer of the Courts). Subsequent to the action of the CCP Executive Committee, the county budget team has allocated GF to backfill the CCP reductions of $510,000, including $230,000 for the Probation Department and $280,000 for the Sheriff.  The CCP Budget should be realigned to address the priorities of their strategic plan and based on evidence-based practices and actual performance. On September 29, I will be asking to restore a reasonable fund balance, shift spending plans to address the Strategic Plan objectives not funded and present a balanced budget for the Community Corrections Partnership that does not require GF backfill by January 2021.

District Attorney (DA) County General Fund Should Remain Flat. The DA should first use fund balances within their control and adopt the overhead cost allocation methods used by other county departments before requesting additional General Fund.  The 2020-21 GF budget should remain flat at the 2019-20 level of $8.2 million rather than the $9.5 million requested. The office of the District Attorney is requesting a total of $25 million, including $9.5 million in General Fund.  This is an increase of $1.3 million over the 2019-20 General Fund budget and $2.1 million over the 2018-19 actual General Fund spending level.  The budget documents submitted as part of the Recommended Budget were vague about why this General Fund increase is proposed.  Supplemental information provided by the DA addressed many grant-funded special programs but continued to be vague about the General Fund spending levels and outcomes. The DA has authority over nine separate special funds with Fund Balances totaling $12.7 million. Some of these funds have restricted purposes and some do not.  Yolo County Budget Policy states that “General Fund resources should be used sparingly and the GF should be the fund of last resort. All special purpose funds should be expended first before GF resources are drawn on.” Holding the DA General Fund budget flat will allow the Board of Supervisors to make GF investments in purposes aligned with our values and Strategic Plan.  The DA would have the authority to deploy special funds and apply commonly accepted cost allocation methods to address his priorities.

Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection Fund Should have a Policy and Spending Plan. The Board of Supervisors and the office of the DA should establish a reasonable reserve policy and specific plans for use of the $9.8 million fund balance in the Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection Fund and future proceeds to that fund. Revenues to the Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection Fund are gained by pursuit of those who do harm to the community. It only makes sense that those funds would be reinvested to directly benefit members of our community rather than languish in a slush fund or allocated in ad hoc manner to special projects. I believe these funds can be used for habitat conservation, climate resilience and sustainability, and environmental health program enhancements. At the September 1 budget update, the Board requested a plan for the use of this $9.8 million and a policy for managing it into the future.  The September 29 budget package includes a framework for allocation of revenue from future settlements, but does not address the disposition of the existing fund balance.

This topic of funding of Yolo County’s Law and Justice departments has been an ongoing policy conversation for the past 18 months. It was an important part of our June 9 budget discussions.  The significance of that date was not lost–these critical discussions were taking place as the body of George Floyd was being buried next to his mother’s grave in their hometown of Houston.  The man who gasped for air and cried out for his mother while dying under the knee of a police officer will now keep breathing life into this movement for change and will continue to fuel our calls to action. We can and must change our focus on community and justice.  This should not be business as usual. The issues I identify in this discussion present concrete steps we can take to align our community values to our spending on law and justice. Now is the time.

Don Saylor is the Yolo County Supervisor for District 2

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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