The Diversity of Decarceration: Examining First-year County Realignment Spending in California

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Sociology and Criminology


Correctional policies, Correctional spending, Decarceration, Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), Realignment


In recent years, California has dramatically restructured its correctional system through a policy called “Realignment,” which shifts responsibility over thousands of offenders from the state to its counties. To help manage this influx, the state allocated US$2 billion through 2014 to the counties. Counties have used these funds in different ways. Some have adhered to Realignment’s intended focus on evidence-based programming, whereas others have focused on expanding enforcement and custodial capacities. I analyze first-year (2011-2012) county Realignment budgets to identify political, economic, and criminal justice factors that explain different spending emphases. Using quantitative and comparative methods, I find that counties focus on enforcement spending because of pressing local needs related to crime and justice, and counties focus on services spending when sheriffs—key figures in Realignment administration—are politically secure. These findings have practical implications for correctional policies in California, and for other states that seek to reduce their prison populations.

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