Portion of Parole Population Realigned to Counties in 2011. As part of the 2011‑12 budget package, the Legislature enacted a major shift—or “realignment”—of state criminal justice, mental health, and social services program responsibilities and revenues to local government. One of these responsibilities was the supervision of certain people after they are released from prison. Specifically, before realignment, all people released from state prison were supervised in the community by state parole agents. Following realignment, however, state parole agents only supervise people released from prison whose current offense is classified as serious or violent as well as certain others, such as high-risk sex offenders. The remaining people are released from prison to the supervision of county probation officers—referred to as Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS). People generally remain on PRCS for a maximum of two years. The 2011 realignment shifted a portion of annual state sales tax revenue—which is expected to be nearly $2 billion in 2023‑24—to counties to support the PRCS population as well as other adult criminal justice populations that were realigned in 2011. In the first half of 2022 (the most recent data available), the average quarterly PRCS population was 35,500.
Proposition 57 (2016) Caused Temporary Increases in PRCS Population. When a policy change causes people to be released from prison earlier than otherwise, it causes a temporary increase in the PRCS and parole populations. This temporary increase is not the product of new people being placed on PRCS or parole, but rather the result of people being released to PRCS and parole ahead of schedule. Various changes that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)—which operates state prisons—has made over the years to implement Proposition 57 have caused temporary increases in the PRCS population. These temporary increases have been caused in the following two ways:
Increased Credit Earning. Proposition 57 expanded the authority of CDCR to reduce people’s sentences through credits. People earn credits through maintaining good behavior and participating in rehabilitation programs. Accordingly, each time CDCR has changed credit earning in ways that result in people being released to PRCS early, there has been a temporary increase in the PRCS population.
Expansion of Parole Consideration. Proposition 57 made people not convicted of violent crimes eligible to be considered by the Board of Parole Hearings for release from prison earlier than otherwise. The initial implementation of this process, as well as expansions to it over the years, have also caused temporary increases in the PRCS population.
Since implementation of Proposition 57 began in 2017, the prison population has declined by about 35,700 people (27 percent)—from 131,300 on June 30, 2017 to 95,600 as of February 1, 2023. We note that, while Proposition 57 has been a significant driver of this decline, various other sentencing changes have also contributed.
State Has Provided Funding to Probation Departments for Temporary Increases in PRCS Population. As discussed above, the temporary increases in the PRCS population are not an increase in the overall number of people who will be supervised by probation departments. Rather, they are the product of some people starting their supervision terms earlier than otherwise. While counties receive realigned sales tax revenue to support the PRCS population, this funding does not get moved forward in time to reflect people starting their supervision terms earlier. Accordingly, there were concerns that counties could face cash-flow problems when temporary increases in the PRCS population occur. In light of these concerns, the state has provided a series of one-time augmentations associated with Proposition 57—totaling $111 million from 2017‑18 through 2022‑23—to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) to distribute to probation departments. (BSCC is broadly responsible for providing statewide leadership, coordination, and technical assistance to promote effective state and local efforts in California’s adult and juvenile justice systems, including administering various grant programs.) These augmentations were based on estimates of the average daily population increase in the PRCS population caused by Proposition 57 and funded at a rate of $10,250 per person. We note that in the past, the state also provided funding to probation departments for temporary increases in the PRCS population caused by population reduction measures implemented in response to (1) a federal court order related to prison overcrowding and (2) the COVID-19 pandemic.
$8.2 Million to Support Temporary Increase in PRCS Population Resulting From Proposition 57. The Governor proposes $8.2 million one-time General Fund for BSCC to distribute to county probation departments in recognition of the temporary increase in the PRCS population caused by Proposition 57. The administration indicates that the proposed funding amount is based on an estimate that the average daily PRCS population will be 801 higher in 2023‑24 than otherwise due to Proposition 57 and—like previous augmentations—provides $10,250 per person. Similar to previous augmentations, the proposed funding would be distributed among counties based on a schedule developed by the Department of Finance.
Proposed Funding Likely Not Needed. Unlike the state prison and parole populations, the administration does not report projections of the statewide PRCS population. Accordingly, there are no available projections of the total PRCS population in 2023‑24. However, as shown in Figure 1, preliminary 2022 data suggest that the PRCS population is declining. Moreover, it is notable that the preliminary 2022 population is comparable with the 2016 level, which was the year before Proposition 57 implementation began. Accordingly, we find it unlikely that counties continue to need funding to support the temporary increase in the PRCS population for cash-flow reasons. Moreover, the administration has not provided any data indicating that current 2011 realignment funding levels are such that cash-flow problems are likely to occur.
Higher Bar for Approving New Spending Proposals Given General Fund Condition. The Governor’s proposal would commit the state to $8.2 million in discretionary General Fund expenditures, as the state is not required to provide payments to the counties to offset the cost of the workload. Importantly, the state currently is experiencing a budget problem, where revenues already are insufficient to fund existing commitments. In this context, every dollar of new spending in the budget year comes at the expense of a commitment the Legislature deemed a priority and approved funding for, as it requires finding a commensurate level of solution somewhere within the budget. The Governor “makes room” for this (and other) proposed new spending by making reductions to funds committed for other programs. We therefore think the Legislature likely will want to apply a higher bar to its review of new spending proposals such as this proposal than it might in a year in which the General Fund had more capacity to support new commitments. In our view, this proposal does not meet that higher bar.
Reject Governor’s Proposal. We recommend that the Legislature reject the Governor’s proposal for two primary reasons. First, the proposed funding is likely not needed. Second, given the state’s budget problem, dedicating new General Fund to this purpose would come at the expense of previously identified priorities, and we do not find it sufficiently justified for prioritizing limited state resources.