SACRAMENTO — A university study released Friday showing how California counties are spending $4.4 billion to implement Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment law found that nearly 20 percent have fundamentally changed how they approach criminal justice.
The subsidies to counties are guaranteed as part of the 2-year-old law that is sending lower-level offenders to county jails instead of state prisons. The law also leaves it to county probation departments, instead of state parole agents, to supervise those released from prison.
In passing the law, state lawmakers urged county officials to increase rehabilitation and treatment programs that could keep more criminals out of prisons and jails, although the local governments were given broad discretion in spending the grants.
The study by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center compared, among other indicators, incarceration rates, county budgets and first-year plans for spending the $4.4 billion allocated to local governments by the state expected through the 2016-17 fiscal year. It offers the first statistical analysis of how the state’s 58 counties are responding to the governor’s criminal justice realignment plan.
Researchers identified five counties they called “the poster counties” for realignment: Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Shasta.
Before realignment, those counties largely emphasized “a more punitive approach,” defined as “sentencing a higher proportion of convicted felons to incarceration.” Now their plans call for spending more of their state-provided money on treatment programs.
Five other counties went in the opposite direction, the study found. They are Alpine, Calaveras, Contra Costa, Imperial and Marin counties.
They previously had fewer offenders in custody but planned to use the state money to increase their spending on law enforcement.
“If crime is going up ... then it makes sense what they did, because they’re allocating these funds to deal with the problems that realignment is going to cause them, or that they anticipate is going to cause them,” said study co-author Jeffrey Lin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Denver.
Those counties might be spending heavily now on new deputies and jail cells, but intend to spend more on probation and rehabilitation programs in future years, he said.
“Some of these counties might then start to fall in line with what realignment intended. Not surprisingly, counties are taking care of their most pressing business first,” he said.
Researchers did not try to learn why officials in each county made their spending decisions.
Twenty-five of California’s 58 counties showed no significant change in their approach to criminal justice, according to the 16-month, $200,000 study. It was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In fiscal 2011-12, allocations to counties ranged from less than $77,000 for thinly populated Alpine County to nearly $113 million for Los Angeles County.