Unseen billions: Every year, California makes a massive investment in jails and probation, with little county transparency or state oversight

by Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

San Francisco – A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) titled “Unseen Billions” finds that Public Safety Realignment (AB 109) funding – one of the largest state-level criminal justice disbursements in the nation – is being spent with little oversight or transparency, while deepening California’s investment in its criminal justice system. This paper examines AB 109 funding, including how counties report data, the amount given to law enforcement and strategies for boosting oversight of this critical funding stream. 

Despite total funding of approximately $2 billion annually, it is currently not possible to take a full accounting of AB 109 spending. County plans are haphazard and unclear, and the state has not taken the necessary steps to require and standardize reporting. The data that are available paint a consistent picture: Law enforcement agencies are receiving the vast majority of funds. In the average county, 74 percent  of FY 2022-23 AB 109 funds were allocated to sheriffs, police, DAs and probation departments.

chart-showing-how-much-usd-goes-to-law-enforcement, Unseen billions: Every year, California makes a massive investment in jails and probation, with little county transparency or state oversight, World News & Views
Law enforcement agencies receive the majority of the funding.

Key findings include:

● County plans are cursory, offering little information about how funds are being spent. 

● Counties report spending data inconsistently, making it difficult to track budgets over time or to compare across counties. 

● The state asks far less of counties when implementing AB 109 than it does for other, much smaller, funding programs. 

● Absent oversight and accountability, counties may mismanage AB 109 funds. 

● Law enforcement agencies receive the vast majority of AB 109 funds despite significant declines in jail and probation populations.  

AB 109 was groundbreaking legislation. It helped to end inhumane and deadly overcrowding in state prisons and brought more Californians closer to their loved ones at home. It also brought unprecedented investments to local systems to support this reorganization. But these local systems have continued to change. Jail populations are down almost 30 percent since 2014, and probation caseloads have fallen by half compared to their peak in 2011. Today’s spending priorities should reflect these shifts by supporting approaches suited to a world with less incarceration.

Amid today’s budget pressures and increased threats to criminal justice reform, California must make prudent and transparent investments in what we know works: community programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable people.