LAO 2004-05 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2004-05 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2004

Reducing TANF Block Grant for Probation Could Have Unintended Consequences

The Governor's budget proposes to allow the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant funds which are provided to county juvenile probation programs to expire, thereby reducing funding for local probation services, including residential facilities such as juvenile halls, camps, and ranches. We provide some background information on county probation services, discuss the potential impact of the proposed reduction, and offer options for legislative consideration.

Background. In California, counties are the primary provider of services to youthful offenders and juveniles at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. In fact, the counties handle more than 95 percent of juveniles involved in the criminal justice system. Specifically, county probation departments provide a range of services designed to meet the diverse needs of juvenile offenders, at-risk youth, and to a lesser degree their families. These services range from after-school programs designed for relatively low-level at-risk youth, to formal counseling, alcohol and drug treatment services. Services are provided both in the community and in residential facilities, such as juvenile halls, camps, and ranches. Generally, the purpose of these programs is public safety and rehabilitation. The effectiveness of the counties in responding to juvenile crime has an impact on public safety, as well as the population of the state's youth correctional facilities and prisons.

How Are Juvenile Probation Programs Funded? Juvenile probation programs are funded by a combination of sources, including local general fund, state subvention grants, and federal funds. The most significant state funding source is the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) grant program administered by the Board of Corrections. In 2003-04, this program provided $100 million for crime prevention programs. The most significant source of federal funds is the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which has historically provided approximately $200 million for probation services. Data on county general fund spending for probation services statewide are not available.

Before the establishment of the TANF block grant, county juvenile probation services were partially supported by federal Title IV-A funds (named after the section of the Social Security Act authorizing the funding program). However, this program was eliminated in 1995. In order to restore juvenile probation services, the Legislature enacted the Comprehensive Youth Services Act as part of welfare reform, which authorized TANF funding for the counties based upon their Title IV-A probation services expenditures. (Welfare reform also established the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids [CalWORKs] program which provides cash grants and employment services to low-income families.) It should be noted that county probation department claims filed for reimbursement under the old Title IV-A program were taken into consideration by the federal government in determining California's share of TANF funds, and thus increased the state's TANF block grant by approximately $140 million. Under current law, the TANF block grant for juvenile probation programs sunsets in October 2004.

What Services Are Funded by the TANF Block Grant? While comprehensive data are not available on precisely how the TANF block grant funds are used by county probation departments, a 2003 report on TANF-funded probation services conducted by the RAND Corporation suggests that these funds support a variety of juvenile probation services, including anger management, family mentoring, and mental health assessment and counseling to name a few. However, the report indicates that most of the funding is probably used for services provided to youth detained in juvenile halls, camps, and ranches.

Governor's Budget Proposal. Pursuant to current law, the administration has proposed to allow the block grant funding to sunset in October 2004, resulting in a reduction of $134 million in 2004-05 for juvenile probation programs. The budget includes $67 million for these services from July through October 2004. Starting in November, however, these funds would be retained by the CalWORKs program

Impact of Proposal on Probation Services for At Risk Juveniles. While data are not readily available on total spending for juvenile probation programs statewide, the RAND report estimates that the TANF block grant represents between 10 percent and 15 percent of county spending for juvenile probation services. The loss of these funds will affect counties differently depending on how the funds are used, and whether and to what extent counties backfill for the loss of these funds. Our discussions with county probation department representatives and other criminal justice experts suggest that the proposed reduction could have a significant impact on the ability of counties to operate their juvenile camps.

The grants funded from this source range from $5,000 (Sierra County) to $68 million (Los Angeles County). In some counties, the TANF funds are used largely to contract with community-based organizations, while in other counties the funds are used to support county probation department staff. In 1995, when the Title IV-A funding was eliminated, some county boards of supervisors increased funds from other sources to backfill for the loss of those funds, while others did not.

Impact on Public Safety and State Costs. As we indicated above, the local system of juvenile probation is the first line of defense against future criminality for these youthful offenders. Research has shown that early intervention programs can be effective in preventing future crime by youthful offenders. To the extent that these programs are no longer available, it could result in a reduced level of public safety. For example, because of the potential reduced number of residential treatment beds, lower level juvenile offenders—who currently benefit from intervention services provided in the camps and ranches—may be retained in the community with no intervention services, thereby posing a greater risk to public safety.

The proposed reduction could also result in more juveniles being sent to the state Youth Authority, thereby increasing General Fund costs. Because of the reduced number of residential treatment beds at the local level, juvenile court judges and probation officers may have few alternatives to sending certain juveniles to the Youth Authority. This effect would be somewhat mitigated by the sliding fee schedule that requires counties to pay a share of the cost for Youth Authority commitments that fall into lower-level offense categories. (See our 2002-03 Analysis, page D-48, for a detailed description of county sliding scale fees.) It is unknown whether these potential costs resulting from a greater number of Youth Authority commitments would fully offset the General Fund savings resulting from the Governor's proposal to eliminate the TANF block grant. This would depend on the number of juveniles placed in the Youth Authority rather than in local facilities due to this proposal.

Impact May Be Somewhat Mitigated by Downward Trends in Juvenile Crime. Because of recent declines in juvenile crime, probation departments may be able to consolidate some camp and ranch operations—as the state is currently doing with its Youth Authority facilities—which would mitigate the impact of the proposed reduction. The juvenile felony arrest rate has been declining for several years. For example, between 1997 and 2002, there was a 35 percent decrease in the rate of felony juvenile arrests. For violent felonies over this same period, there was a 34 percent decrease in the rate of juvenile arrests. In 2002, the juvenile felony arrest rate reached its lowest level in decades. This trend corresponds to a significant reduction in the number of juveniles detained in both local and state youth correctional facilities.

In addition, the population of California residents between 5 years and 17 years of age is projected to experience below average growth over the next decade, which should have the effect of further reducing the number of youthful offenders in California's communities and correctional facilities. As such, there may be a reduced need for certain types of juvenile probation services at the local level. However, we caution against blanket program reductions based upon these data. This is because the downward trend in juvenile arrests may reflect a combination of factors including a potential shift of local law enforcement priorities, or improvements in the administration and effectiveness of crime intervention and prevention programs.

Legislature Should Consider Other Alternatives. As an alternative to the Governor's proposal, we recommend that the Legislature consider eliminating or suspending the Citizens' Option for Public Safety (COPS) and JJCPA grant programs. Based upon our discussions with probation representatives, it is our understanding that in many counties the TANF block grant supports "core services." This is because in many counties the block grant funds support longstanding services that were originally funded by the Title IV-A program before its elimination in 1995.

Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act Grant Program. In contrast, the JJCPA grants (for which the Governor's budget proposes $100 million in 2004-05) support program "add-ons" or enhancements that are still in the early stages of development. It should also be noted that, in many counties, a significant portion of the JJCPA grants allocated in 2004-05 would not be spent until 2005-06. As such, most county probation departments and contracted service providers would have a year to adjust to the loss of JJCPA grants. The results of the JJCPA program evaluations are expected to be released in March 2004 which should assist the Legislature with its deliberations regarding the program.

Citizens' Option for Public Safety. The COPS program supports local law enforcement, including county sheriffs for jail operations, district attorneys for criminal prosecution, and cities and counties for frontline law enforcement. As we have noted in the past, COPS lacks a specific measurable statewide objective. Moreover, COPS funding ($100 million in 2004-05) equates to less than 1 percent of local law enforcement expenditures statewide, thus raising questions about the potential impact of the program on public safety. One recent study examining state and local expenditures nationwide shows that California has the third highest ranking in the nation with regard to per capita expenditures for police protection. This suggests that California's local governments place a high priority on law enforcement.

We would also note that a significant amount of COPS expenditures is not used for direct services. For example, our examination of COPS expenditures in 2001-02 (the latest year for which complete data are available) shows that while 63 percent of COPS funding supported salaries and benefits, 19 percent went to services, supplies, and overhead, and 18 percent went to equipment. Thus, the elimination of this program would likely have a minimal effect, if any, on public safety. (Please also see our discussion of COPS program funding in our analysis of the property tax shift in Part V of our companion document, The 2004-05 Budget: Perspectives and Issues.)

Summary. Our analysis indicates that the proposed TANF block grant reduction could result in the loss of core probation services for juvenile offenders, which could result in a lower level of public safety, and increased General Fund costs resulting from a greater number of Youth Authority commitments. We have identified other programs that could be eliminated or suspended as an alternative to the TANF block grant. Based on our analysis and discussions with probation officials and other criminal justice experts, we conclude that the elimination or suspension of COPS and/or JJCPA grants would achieve the same (or a greater) level of budget savings, and potentially have less of an impact on public safety, without increasing General Fund costs.

Return to Criminal Justice Table of Contents, 2004-05 Budget Analysis