LAO Analysis of the 1996-97 Budget Bill
Department of Corrections Part I

Department of Corrections (5240)

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) is responsible for the incarceration, training, education, and care of adult felons and nonfelon narcotics addicts. It also supervises and treats parolees released to the community.

By the end of 1996-97, the department will operate 33 institutions, including a central medical facility and a treatment center for narcotics addicts under civil commitment. The CDC system also includes 11 reception centers to process newly committed prisoners, 52 community correctional centers, 39 fire and conservation camps, the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center, alternative sentencing programs, and outpatient psychiatric services for parolees and their families.

The budget proposes total expenditures of $3.8 billion for the CDC in 1996-97. This is $360 million, or 11 percent, above estimated current-year expenditures. The primary reason for this increase is the growth in the inmate population and the expansion of prison facilities and staff to accommodate that growth. Two new prisons have already opened in the current year, while occupation of a third is scheduled to begin in May 1996 and be completed in the budget year.

Proposed General Fund expenditures for the budget year total $3.6 billion, an increase of $349 million, or 11 percent, over total General Fund expenditures in the current year.

The Governor's Budget assumes that the state will receive $324 million from the federal government during 1996-97 as partial reimbursement of the cost of incarcerating and supervising felons on parole who are illegally in the United States and have committed crimes in California. The funds are not included in the CDC's budget display, but instead are scheduled as "offsets" to total state General Fund expenditures. (We discuss the administration's assumption later in this analysis.)

Overview of the Inmate Population

Who Is in Prison?

Figures 7 through 10 illustrate the characteristics of the state's prison population, as of June 30, 1995. As the charts show:

(Figure 7)

(Figure 8)

(Figure 9)

(Figure 10)

Inmate and Parole Population Management Issues

Inmate Population Trends

The Department of Corrections projects that the prison population will increase significantly over the next five years, reaching a total of 232,386 inmates by June 2001 and exhausting all available bed space in the prison system by mid-1998. The population increases are driven in part by the return of parole violators and persons receiving longer prison terms under the "Three Strikes and You're Out" sentencing law.

As of June 30, 1995, the CDC housed 131,342 inmates in prisons, fire and conservation camps, and community correctional facilities. Based

on the fall 1995 population forecast prepared by the CDC, the Governor's Budgetassumes that the inmate count will reach 146,390 by June 30, 1996, and increase further to 163,695 by June 30, 1997. These figures represent an annual population increase of 11.5 percent in the current year and 11.8 percent in the budget year. As can be seen in Figure 11, this continues an upward trend in the prison population that has persisted since the early 1980s.

The budget also assumes that the population will increase further over the following four years, reaching more than 232,386 inmates by June 30, 2001. This represents an average annual population increase of about 10 percent over the six-year period from 1994-95 through 2000-2001.

This represents a turnaround from the trend experienced in the late 1980s, during which the rate of growth in the prison system was decreasing. By 1993-94, the annual growth rate was less than 5 percent. Correctional officials believe that the return to a higher annual growth rate is due largely to the effects of laws mandating prison sentences for certain offender populations and lengthening prison terms for those offenders who are sent to prison. According to the CDC projections, the

rapid growth rate will be sustained through June 2005, at which point the prison population would reach 305,935.

Change from Prior Projection.The CDC's fall 1995 projection is somewhat higher than the spring 1995 forecast upon which the 1995 Budget Act was based. The fall 1995 forecast is about 3,800 inmates higher as of June 30, 1996 than the spring 1995 forecast. The differences between the spring and fall 1995 projections are relatively minor. Much larger adjustments in forecasts have been made by the CDC during the past several years.

Population Will Exceed Available Prison Space.Based upon these projections, the inmate population will reach 179,737 by June 30, 1998. As a result, the CDC will run out of space to house additional inmates in mid-1998 if new prison facilities are not made available by that date.

The CDC estimates that when all funded prisons are completed in 1997-98, the system capacity will be about 147,000. This capacity total does not include an additional 30,000 beds available on a temporary basis in such locations as gymnasiums and dayrooms. After accounting for these beds, the maximum capacity of the prison system (177,000) would be exceeded in 1998, if the CDC projections prove correct.

Parole Violators Fueling Population Growth.The 127,800 felons projected to be admitted to the prison system in 1996-97 belong to one of three categories: (1) offenders committed by the courts for a new criminal conviction who are not parolees (referred to as "new admits"), (2) parolees committed by the courts for conviction of a new crime, and (3) parolees returned to prison under an administrative hearing process for a violation of a condition of their parole.

The CDC's latest forecast assumes that the number of offenders admitted to prison in all three of these categories will continue to grow. During 1996-97, the budget assumes that the CDC will receive 52,540 new admits, 20,819 parole violators with new terms, and 54,112 parole violators returned administratively. The latter category of parole violators with administrative returns has grown so rapidly in recent years that it has surpassed admissions of felons committed with new terms.

The CDC projections assume that, throughout the five-year projection period, about 51 percent of male felon parolees will be returned to prison administratively for parole violations. That is consistent with the revocation rate experienced by the CDC during the first half of 1995.

"Three Strikes" Admissions Projected.The CDC's forecast assumes that the "Three Strikes and You're Out" law enacted in 1994 will continue to have a major impact in increasing the prison population. Under the law, offenders convicted of a felony, and who have one prior violent or serious felony on their record, face a doubling of their prison term. Offenders with two violent or serious priors on their record, and who are convicted of a new felony, face a prison term of 25 years to life imprisonment.

The CDC forecast for 1996-97 assumes that 9,628 offenders--roughly 800 per month or one of every eight offenders sent to prison by the courts--will be committed to prison under the "Three Strikes" law. "Three Strikes" admissions are expected to exceed 13,100 annually by 2000-2001. The impact of these admissions is magnified because offenders sentenced under the "Three Strikes" law will receive much longer prison sentences than offenders who were convicted of the same crimes in the past.

Parole Population Growth.As of June 30, 1995, the CDC supervised 91,456 persons on parole. The Governor's Budget assumes that the parole population will be 92,930 as of June 30, 1996, and will increase to 94,524 by June 30, 1997. These figures assume a parole population increase of 1.6 percent in the current year and 1.7 percent in the budget year.

The budget also assumes that the population will increase further over the following four years, reaching a total of 113,744 parolees by June 30, 2001. This represents an average annual population increase of about 3.7 percent.

Potential Risks to Accuracy of Projections.As we have indicated in past years, the accuracy of the department's projections depends on a number of significant factors. Among the factors that could cause population figures to vary from the projections are:

Significant change in any of these areas could easily result in a prison growth rate higher or lower than contained in the CDC's projections.

The projections are also at risk because of the uncertainty as to whether the space available in the prison system will keep pace with the projected inmate population growth. As noted above, the prison population is expected to surpass the number of available beds in 1998. If new prison beds are not built or the shortage of prison space relieved in some other fashion by that time, CDC officials and others have predicted that the federal courts will intervene to cap the prison population at an unknown level, much the same way they have imposed population caps on many of California's county jail systems. If the federal courts were to intervene in this fashion, the CDC's projections would become obsolete.

Higher Caseloads Mean Bigger CDC Budgets.Absent such action by the federal courts, the major increases in the prison population can be expected to result in significant increases in the CDC budget that are likely to outpace overall state spending increases.

We have estimated how the CDC budget is likely to grow between now and 2000-2001 if, as under the current practice, both prison and parole caseload were fully funded and no other significant policy changes were made in the CDC programs. As seen in Figure 12, the CDC budget would grow to nearly $5 billion by 2000-2001. If, instead, the CDC budget were to be constrained to grow no faster than overall General Fund revenues, the department would have to absorb reductions amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Figure 12
The CDC Budget Growth Will Outpace General Fund Growth
(In Millions)
CDC Budget
Fiscal YearBased on
Based on
Revenue Growthb
to Reductions
1995-96 $3,253 $3,253 --
1996-97 3,603 3,442 $161
1997-98 3,801 3,665 136
1998-99 4,094 3,849 245
1999-00 4,497 4,041 456
2000-01 4,913 4,243 670
a Growth based only on caseload increases.
b Growth based on overall increase in General Fund revenue.

Projections to Be Updated in May

We withhold recommendation on the Department of Corrections' request for $243 million to fund inmate and parole population growth, pending review of the revised budget proposal and population projections to be included in the May Revision.

The budget requests an increase of $243 million and 2,761 personnel-years to accommodate the inmate and parole populations projected by the CDC as described above. The amount includes $241 million from the General Fund, $2.7 million from the Inmate Welfare Fund, and a reduction of $840,000 in reimbursements.

Nearly all of the budget request--more than $242 million of the total--relates to the projected increase in the inmate population. The money would be used to accommodate additional inmates in existing institutions, fund associated population-driven support costs, complete the activation of three new prisons which will open in the current year, and occupy almost 9,000 beds provided under the emergency housing program approved in the 1995 Budget Act. About $745,000 of the requested additional funding stems from projected increases in the parole population.

The CDC has also requested and been granted $46.2 million in increased spending authority in the current year primarily to account for a 3,400-inmate increase in the average daily population of the prison system. The budget proposal assumes that this addition to the CDC's funding base would carry over into 1996-97.

Projections Will Be Updated. Recent trends indicate that the population projections released by the CDC in fall 1995 have somewhat overestimatedthe number of inmates who are being incarcerated. For example, 1,200 fewer "Three Strike" offenders were sent to prison than anticipated in July through December 1995. Also, recent CDC data indicate that the rate at which parolees are being returned to prison for parole violations has dropped significantly below projections; by December 1995, the return to custody rate was 45 percent, well below the projected 51 percent rate projected for that month. Thus, as of early January 1996, the overall CDC inmate population count was running about 3,000 below the fall projections.

Meanwhile, the CDC's fall 1995 projections appear to have somewhat underestimatedthe number being supervised on parole. As of December 31, 1995, the parole count was about 1,700 above what had been projected, a direct result of a trend in which releases of inmates from prison exceeded expectations.

If these trends hold, they could result in a significant reduction in the amount requested to accommodate inmate population growth and a smaller, but still significant, increase to accommodate larger parole caseloads. Because the cost of incarcerating an inmate is much higher than the cost of parole supervision, the net effect of these caseload discrepancies is likely to be a significant reduction in the amount of CDC funding requested in the current and budget years. We would expect the reduction to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

The fall 1995 projections also need to be updated to reflect changes in criminal justice policies enacted or proposed by the Legislature and the Governor. For example, the Governor's Budget proposes to transfer 750 Department of the Youth Authority wards who are age 18 and over (so called "M cases") to CDC facilities; this addition of 750 inmates, which depends on pending legislation, is not included in the fall 1995 population forecast. Legislation enacted in 1995 to crack down on parole violators and to use civil court procedures to return sexually violent predators to prison also is not reflected in the latest CDC forecast.

For these reasons, we withhold recommendation on the proposed $243 million and 2,761 personnel-years requested to support the inmate and parole population pending receipt and review in May of the CDC's revised estimates.

The Inmate Housing Plan Contains Uncertainties

We withhold recommendation on the Department of Corrections' plan for housing the projected increase in the prison population because part of the plan is obsolete and there a number of policy questions and uncertainties about the proposal. The plan will be updated as a part of the May Revision.

Inmate Housing Plan for 1996-97. The Governor's Budget includes an inmate housing plan to accommodate the 17,300 additional inmates that the CDC expects to receive during 1996-97. The plan calls for:

Policy Questions and Uncertainties.Our analysis indicates that part of the housing plan's schedule is obsolete and that there is uncertainty about several implementation issues. The CDC housing plan also raises some significant policy questions that should be reviewed by the Legislature. These issues are discussed below.

Community Correctional Facilities Schedule Has Slowed.The CDC housing plan assumes that all 2,000 community correctional facility beds would be activated between February and June 1997. Since the housing plan was drafted, however, the CDC has revised the timetable for private vendors bidding for the contracts to provide these beds. The revised timetable specifies that the first beds would be occupied in mid-June 1997 and would all be occupied by September 1997. The CDC has advised us that a four-month delay in activating these facilities will be reflected in a revised housing plan that will be issued as part of the May Revision. Even this relatively short delay could create problems for the CDC because of its shortage of space to house its ever-increasing inmate population.

The delay in the availability of these beds stems largely from the CDC's failure to meet its original schedule for putting the projects out for bid to private vendors. Instead of issuing bid documents in February 1995, the bidding process did not get under way until October 1995. The CDC had initially hoped to shorten the bidding and construction process and occupy all of the new beds by the end of 1996-97. However, as the bid process began, would-be bidders complained that the time allowed for them to prepare and submit bids was too brief. This prompted the CDC to stretch out its timetable for occupying the community correctional facility beds. The new timetable gives bidders additional time to respond to the state's offer of the projects.

While the new timetable is more achievable, we still question whether it is realistic. In the past, similar community correctional facility projects have generated significant community controversy and opposition that has led to delays. As we noted in last year's Analysis,we believe the CDC's decision to allow inmates with a somewhat higher security level to occupy these community beds is reasonable. However, the change in the criteria for inmate eligibility increases the potential for community opposition and delays.

Moreover, in order for the Legislature to evaluate the plan, the May Revision should address the following issues: (1) the cost projections assumed for these beds, (2) the cost-effectiveness of providing only limited inmate medical care at the private prison sites, and (3) the CDC's decision to exclude public agencies from the bidding process.

Leased Jail Beds Agreements Uncertain. We have been advised by the CDC that negotiations to lease the jail beds the CDC intends to occupy in Los Angeles have not been completed. Thus, we have no basis to evaluate the leasing plan or the cost-effectiveness of this element of the housing plan.

Any such lease agreement must by law meet the test set forth in the 1995 Budget Act. The Budget Act mandates that such a contract shall not reimburse counties more than the average amount it costs the state to provide the same services in comparable state institutions exclusive of one-time and capital outlay costs. (This requirement is proposed for continuation in the 1996-97 Budget Bill.)

In addition to this legal test, we believe the Legislature should consider (1) the security level of the inmates who would be housed at the jail, (2) what CDC staffing, transportation, overhead and other state costs will be incurred in connection with occupation of the jail beds, (3) the opportunity for state inmates to earn work and education credits to reduce their time in incarceration, (4) the intended duration of the lease arrangements, and (5) the impact of leasing jail beds on the state's capital outlay requirements for new prison construction.

Plan Proposes to Put Low-Security Inmates in Higher-Security Housing.The housing plan would continue a significant mismatch between the security risk posed by inmates and the security level of the prison facilities in which they are to be housed. This mismatch would worsen by the end of 1996-97.

For example, the housing plan indicates that, as of June 30, 1997, the CDC will have 8,500 more Level I inmates--those posing the least security risk--than it will have Level I prison beds.

The CDC data indicate that more than 11,000 Level I inmates are currently being housed in Level II facilities, where the level of supervision and security is more intense and thus more expensive. That is possible because the CDC has a surplus of Level II beds. As of June 30, 1997, the state will have 8,800 more Level II beds than it will have Level II inmates.

Some placements of Level I inmates in higher-level beds are clearly warranted as a result of inmate work assignments, psychological problems, convictions for specific crimes, and other factors. But the magnitude of the mismatch in inmates and their housing raises questions as to (1) the cost-effectiveness of housing so many Level I inmates in Level II beds, where security costs are generally higher, (2) whether the prison system has been and will in the future construct prison beds that fit the security level of its projected population, and (3) whether inmates are being properly classified. Because the security costs for Level II facilities are generally higher than for Level I facilities, the mismatch in housing and inmates has potentially significant fiscal ramifications.

Plan Dependent on Several Program Changes.The CDC's housing plan does not yet resolve several significant issues relating to correctional programs that could affect the aggregate number of inmates it must incarcerate as well as the specific way those inmates would be housed within the prison system.

For example, the budget assumes enactment of legislation that would transfer to the CDC 750 offenders age 18 and over (known as "M cases") who would otherwise be incarcerated in the Youth Authority. The housing plan does not account for this additional population, nor indicate whether this younger group of inmates would be housed in one particular facility. The potential legal requirement that some "M case" inmates receive special education might make it cost-effective for the CDC to group at least some of them in one institution.

The housing plan also provides no beds for released inmates returned to state custody under a new program for the civil commitment of so-called sexually violent predators.

Given these policy issues and uncertainties, we withhold recommendation on the CDC housing plan, pending receipt of additional information about its various components and its updating by the CDC for the May Revision.

What Happened to the Recommendations
Of the Blue Ribbon Commission?

During the past five years, the state has made modest progress toward implementing the reforms advocated by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management. Given the continued inmate population pressures--state prisons have gained 47,000 inmates since the report's release in January 1990--we believe many of the recommendations which have yet to be implemented remain relevant and worthy of consideration by the Legislature.

Background.Chapter 1255, Statutes of 1987 (SB 279, Presley), established the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management to "reexamine traditional correctional housing approaches and to study other possible methods of housing the state's prison population." The 25-member panel had a number of ex officio members as well as appointees by the Governor, the Senate Rules Committee, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the California Judges Association. The membership included the heads of the state's criminal justice and correctional departments, judges, local criminal justice and law enforcement officials, academic experts and researchers, and representatives of the business community.

The commission released its final report containing 38 recommendations on January 29, 1990.

Commission Recommended Major, Fundamental Changes.The panel made a number of important findings and recommendations. The commission's predominant conclusion was that "the criminal justice system of California is out of balance and will remain so unless the entire state and local criminal justice system is addressed from prevention through discharge of jurisdiction." The report recommended that additional punishment options be expanded to reduce prison overcrowding while protecting public safety.

Only Modest Progress on Implementing Commission's Recommendations. Our analysis indicates that there has been only modest progress in implementing the recommendations, as shown in Figure 13.

What follows is a summary of the major findings and recommendations of the commission and the actions taken to date to implement them.

Enact Community Corrections Act

Figure 13
Status of Recommendations of the 1990
Blue Ribbon Commission Inmate Population Management
Recommendation Implementation Status
Enact Community Corrections ActTwo measures enacted in 1992, but vetoed. Measure enacted in 1994, but implementation dependent on future funding. Two major proposals currently before the Legislature.
Expand intermediate sanctions for parole violatorsSeveral community-based treatment programs (such as drug treatment) established for parolees that have helped reduce number of parole violators.
Establish parole revocation guidelinesProcedures established to improve parole decision-making.
Establish Sentencing Law Revision CommissionNo action.
Establish Corrections Coordinating CouncilAd-hoc group established, but modest progress toward commission's goals and recommendations.
Prioritize inmate employmentSmall number of inmates participating in private sector employment program; employment in Prison Industry Authority stagnate.
Eliminate delay in processing of civil and criminal cases in courtSeveral efforts adopted (such as Trial Court Delay Reduction Program) to reduce court backlog. "Three Strikes" measure has now increased backlog, however.
Mandate local governments to
provide sites for correctional facilities
No action.

Develop Substance Abuse Treatment for Offenders

Establish Parole Revocation Guidelines

Establish Sentencing Law Review Commission Establish Corrections Coordinating Council Prioritize Inmate Employment Eliminate Delay in Processing of Civil and Criminal Cases in Courts Mandate Local Governments to Provide Sites for Correctional Facilities Conclusion. While we do not necessarily endorse all of the commission's recommendations, our review found substantial justification for many of the recommendations. In fact, we believe that, had they been enacted, the recommended changes would likely have reduced the growth in the prison population and the associated costs of the CDC.

We believe the proposals continue to warrant serious consideration by the Legislature. That is because, as we have indicated previously, we believe it would be difficult and expensive for the state to attempt to accommodate the significant inmate population growth projected for the CDC for the coming decade and beyond in the same manner as it has in the past.

In addition to the commission's findings, the Legislature may again wish to reconsider other options we have offered in the past to slow the growth in the prison population. We are in the process of updating our projections of the budgetary savings and bed space that could result from enactment of these proposals, which primarily involve changes in sentencing laws that would prioritize use of available prison space for violent, serious, and career criminals. These options include:

We expect to have updated estimates for the potential impact of these options at the time of budget hearings.

The "Graying" of the CDC

While inmates age 60 and over now represent only about 1 percent of the state prison population, their numbers are forecast to grow significantly and could exceed 47,600, or an increase of almost 8 percent, two decades from now. Because older inmates tend to have more significant medical problems, the "graying" of the CDC population could be costly to the state. We believe that the state could achieve significant correctional savings in the long run, while not sacrificing public safety, by identifying and providing the fast-growing population of aging inmates with alternative forms of punishment or parole outside of a traditional prison setting. This approach would free up prison cells for violent, serious, and career criminals still in their prime crime-committing years.

A Major Demographic Shift

Median Age of Inmates Is Rising.Currently, the median age of the CDC inmates is about 31 years, having increased from age 28 between 1983 and 1992. Although a three-year change in the median age may seem numerically small, it represents an 11 percent increase in the age of the population and is a significant demographic shift in less than a decade's time.

Inmates age 60 and over (referred to hereafter as over-60) now number about 1,300, or about 1 percent of the total inmate population. However, the CDC is forecasting that this segment of the inmate population will grow significantly during the coming two decades. Specifically, the CDC forecasts that the number of inmates in this age category will exceed 47,600 by the year 2024. In other words, the over-60 inmate population will grow 34 times over.

As can be seen in Figure 14, the over-60 segment will increase faster than the overall prison population. By the year 2024, the over-60 segment will constitute just under 8 percent of the total prison population, compared to the 1.1 percent share it represents today. Meanwhile, the share of the population that is under age 30 will shrink, going from the present level of 40 percent to about 25 percent in the year 2024.

Figure 14
The Aging of the Inmate Population
Fiscal Year Ending June 30 Percentage of
Total Inmate Population
60 and Over
Number of Inmates Annual Percentage Growth of Inmates
60 and Over All Ages 60 and Over All Ages
1990 1.0% 883 90,371 -- --
1995 1.1 1,364 127,089 54.5% 40.6%
2000 1.4 3,045 210,502 123.2 65.6
2005 1.8 5,536 301,474 81.8 43.2
2010 2.6 10,227 390,136 84.7 29.4
2015 3.9 18,555 470,029 81.4 20.5
2020 6.0 32,524 543,753 75.3 15.7
2024 7.9 47,647 602,792 46.5 10.9
Note: Figures based on the California Department of Corrections' fall 1995 projections.

Why the Prison Population Is Aging.There are two primary reasons for this major demographic shift in the prison population. The first factor is that the aging of the prison population simply reflects the aging of the citizenry as a whole. The so-called "baby boom" generation is getting older, and so are the criminals of the baby boom generation.

The second and probably more significant factor in the aging of the inmate population is the revision of sentencing laws providing longer terms, and in some cases life terms, for career criminals and those who commit violent and serious offenses. The "Three Strikes and You're Out" law enacted by the Legislature and the Governor in March 1994 (and later ratified by California voters) has already resulted in 25-years-to-life sentences for more than 1,100 offenders. About 100 more "third strike" offenders per month are coming in with equally long sentences. And "Three Strikes" and other violent and serious offenders will be serving a much larger proportion of their sentences than was previously the case. Some inmates who once were eligible to reduce their time in prison by as much as 50 percent through participation in work and education programs will henceforth be eligible only to reduce their prison time by 15 percent to 20 percent.

The decision to incarcerate more offenders, and to keep them much longer, adds up to a much larger population of over-60 inmates in the long run.

Most Aging Inmates Committed Violent Crimes.About 75 percent of the over-60 inmates are violent and serious felons who are typically sentenced for such crimes as murder and lewd acts with children. The other 25 percent are serving time for nonviolent and nonserious crimes, typically drug possession, drug possession for sale, and driving under the influence of alcohol.

The proportion of those committed for nonviolent and nonserious crimes is likely to increase over time. According to the CDC data, about 60 percent of the offenders who so far have received third-strike 25-years-to-life sentences under the "Three Strikes" law have been committed for nonviolent and nonserious offenses.

The Costs of an Aging Prison Population

Medical Problems Will Drive Costs Up.Academic experts and the CDC have concluded that the graying of the CDC inmate population will result in large cost increases for the prison system. That is primarily because older inmates tend to be sicker inmates who require medical treatment more frequently, and often at a greater expense, than their younger counterparts.

Because special security details are needed to escort prisoners on medical visits to outside community hospitals, sick and aging inmates also increase security costs. One day's transportation and stay at a hospital by an inmate may result in $500 to $2,000 worth of staffing and transportation expenses.

Estimating the Extra Cost of Aging Inmates.Estimates vary as to exactly how much more costly these older inmates will be. Based upon a review of inmate medical-care usage data, and recognizing that estimating these costs is difficult because of inadequate information, we estimate that aging inmates annually cost the prison system an average of $46,869--or more than double the typical cost for an inmate. Of this total, the additional medical and related security costs associated with aging inmates are $24,984. Our figures were derived from historical hospital care cost and usage data provided by the CDC and budget data for inpatient and outpatient care. Figure 15 depicts how much more costly it is to provide inpatient care for aging inmates both at prison hospitals and community hospitals outside of prison. The figure does not include outpatient care and health-related security costs.

At present, virtually none of the state's medical and support costs are reimbursed by either inmates or the federal government. While some inmates pay a small co-payment for medical services, the fee defrays only a small share of their medical costs. Also, inmates are ineligible for Medicare, the California Medical Assistance Program (Medi-Cal), veterans benefits, and other federally supported benefit programs while they are incarcerated in state prison.

The Issues: Public Safety and Prison Costs

Studies Show Lower Likelihood of Recidivism.In the past, our office has presented the Legislature with a series of options for reducing the costs of imprisoning and supervising on parole certain low-risk or short-term offenders in order to prioritize the use of CDC prison space and parole supervision for high-risk or long-term offenders. Given prior academic studies concluding that aging inmates--even those committed for violent crimes--generally pose a relatively low risk of committing new crimes upon their release from prison, we believe the Legislature should also consider development of a plan to identify a significant population of aging inmates who pose a low risk of committing new crimes. By providing these aging inmates with alternative forms of punishment or parole outside of a traditional prison setting, the state could free up prison space for violent, serious, and career criminals.

In our view, the public safety risks inherent in the transfer of aging inmates to nontraditional custodial arrangements are lower than the risks posed to public safety of having less prison space available for younger and more dangerous criminals.
Options for Addressing the
Problem of Aging Inmate Costs

We believe several options exist for responding to the impending boom in the population of aging inmates. A list of options, and a few comments on the apparent advantages and disadvantages of each, follows. Each estimate assumes existing federal law.

Conversion of Existing State and County Facilities to Geriatric Prisons.Declining patient populations are likely to result in the closure of some state mental hospitals, state centers for the developmentally disabled, and county medical facilities. For example, the 1996-97 Governor's Budget Summary proposes the closure of Camarillo Developmental Center and State Hospital. Some of these facilities may be capable of being modified to hold aging inmates who do not pose a significant security risk. Some might be suitable for privatization efforts.

Broadening of "Compassionate Release" Parole. Existing laws permit the courts to release on parole any prison inmate upon the recommendation of either the CDC or the BPT. In the past, however, the CDC and the BPT have only rarely initiated the so-called "compassionate release" on parole of aging and very sick inmates.

In 1995, the Legislature approved AB 1408 (Villaraigosa) intended to broaden the use of compassionate release for inmates deemed to be "permanently and totally physically incapacitated" as well as terminally ill inmates within six months of death. This measure was vetoed by the Governor, who objected that the bill removed the BPT from the compassionate release process for certain inmates convicted of violent crimes.

The state could expand on the concept contained in AB 1408 and establish a procedure for the early release of aging inmates deemed to pose a low risk to public safety. The Legislature could limit any such releases and placement on parole to aging inmates who were committed for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and who had spent a certain amount of time (for example, ten years) in prison.

Establish a Home Detention Program for Aging Inmates. Instead of paroling aging inmates, the state also has the option of officially maintaining them in CDC custody but assigning them to home detention under electronic monitoring. The program could conceivably include the home of an inmate's family, group homes, or nursing homes dedicated to serving the medical and other needs of this inmate population. The Legislature could target the same limited population that might otherwise be considered for an expanded compassionate release program. Establish Aging Inmates as a Target Population for Realignment Legislation. One option the Legislature might consider is to define aging inmates as a candidate population for transfer to county custody under either of the criminal justice realignment measures (SB 760 and AB 126) now being discussed by a conference committee or any other similar measure that may be considered. Both bills would implement the concept of diverting state funding to counties, either by state-county contracts or by shifting a portion of the state sales tax base to counties, in concert with a commensurate redirection of nonviolent and nonserious offenders from state to county custody.

Figure 16
Home Detention of Aging Inmates
Examples of State Savings
Aging Inmate Eligible for:
Annual Fiscal Impact SSI/SSP; Medi-Cal Benefitsa SSI/SSP; Medi-Cal Long-Term Careb Veterans
U.S. Veterans Health Carec
Assistance and Indigent Cared
Incarceration $46,869 $46,869 $46,869 $46,869
Costs (offset to state savings)
Electronic monitoring/home
$4,745 $4,745 $4,745 $4,745
Benefits 3,732 12,528 -- --
Totals, state costs $8,477 $17,273 $4,745 $4,745
Net annual state savings $38,392 $29,596 $42,124 $42,124
a Medical services only, excluding long-term care.
b Medical services including long-term care.
c Costs to federal government.
d Costs to counties.
e Average $13 per day.


Of these four options, we believe that home detention of aging inmates is the most promising alternative. Compared to the other options, we believe it would be more easily implemented, pose the least threat to public safety, and provide substantial fiscal benefits to the state.

As it evaluates these options, we recommend that the Legislature focus for now on diverting aging offenders whose commitment offense was nonviolent and nonserious. This is because the 1994 federal anti-crime bill made potentially millions of dollars in federal prison construction grants to states such as California contingent upon federal "Truth In Sentencing" standards. Unless federal law is changed on this point, the state might be at some risk of losing its eligibility for federal funds if it changed its sentencing practices to release many over-60 inmates who had been committed for violent crimes.

We would also note that this situation could soon change. At the time this analysis was prepared, legislation pending before Congress would exempt from the "Truth In Sentencing" standards the release of "geriatric prisoners." If this measure is enacted, consideration could be given to diversion of violent and serious offenders from traditional prison cells.

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