We relayed recently that county projections were off when it came to predicting the number of state prisoners that would land in county jails under realignment. Counties are not only scrambling to find extra room for the flood of extra inmates, but the draw on resources could put a strain on county services, according to a new report from the RAND Corp. In a study entitled, “Understanding the Public Health Implications of Prisoner Reentry in California,” the organization argues that local health care and social services programs could suffer under realignment due to the extra demand in resources from local agencies that are already struggling with difficult budgets. The study cautions that counties are ill-equipped to meet the rehabilitative and health care needs of additional inmates at the local level because released prisoners have a high level of health care needs, such as mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment. In addition, if inmates are returned to communities with high poverty and low levels of education, local services are likely to be only further strained. Here are some highlights from the report:
- About two-thirds of California inmates reported having a drug abuse or dependence problem, but only 22 percent of those inmates reported receiving treatment since admission to prison. More than half of California inmates reported a recent mental health problem, with about half of those reporting receiving treatment in prison
- Reentry disproportionately impacts 11 counties statewide and that, within counties, parolees tend to cluster in certain communities and neighborhoods. Such clustering has implications for linking to and providing health care services to this population and for considering how to effectively target reentry resources
- California’s new Public Safety Realignment Plan represents an almost tectonic shift in the state’s criminal justice system that will have a number of implications for thinking about how to meet the health care and rehabilitative needs of the reentry population.
- Public safety realignment presents some challenges, such as the fact that traditional mechanisms for linking ex-prisoners to health care and social services—e.g., parole officers, PACT meetings— will change dramatically for individuals placed on county-level postrelease community supervision and for low-level offenders who will serve their time in county jail.
The study looked closely at Alameda, Los Angeles, San Diego and Kern counties and used focus groups with former prisoners and their families to get a better understanding of the issues at play. The study’s lead author commented that “Investing in treatment for this population may help offset criminal justice costs later. Moreover, expanding access to primary care may help avoid expensive care such as emergency room visits and preventable hospitalizations for this population."
Read the full report here.