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California advocates concerned over jail construction

California is overhauling its treatment of low-level offenders by sending them to county jails instead of state prisons. But as the state doles out hundreds of millions of dollars to help counties deal with the influx, it risks repeating past mistakes, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released Wednesday.

"Left unchecked, these counties will build larger jail systems that will cost more tax dollars than they do now and hold more people than they do now," the report said.

The full story ran in Thursday's L.A. Times.

California is trying to reduce its state prison population to 110,000 inmates by mid-2013 to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — the result of lawsuits that asserted overcrowding constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In a process called realignment, low-level offenders now remain in jails instead of being sent to state prisons, and the state has promised more money to help local governments cope.

Much of the report focused on how the state has handed out $326.8 million to 25 counties. However, there's also a separate pot of money specifically for jail construction. These bond sales were approved in 2007, before realignment started, and counties are now using the money to cope.

So far the state has awarded $1.2 billion to 22 counties. Bill Sessa, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said some of that money can be used to expand space for programs like substance abuse treatment in addition to increasing cell space.

“The whole intent of this funding, and the whole intent of realignment, is for local officials to determine what mix of programming and capacity they need,” he said.

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Twitter: @chrismegerian

RELATED:

ACLU is critical of state prison realignment

California writes $602-million check for local jail construction

Inmate advocates question state's commitment to prison healthcare

 
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