California Takes a First Step Toward Improving Its Failing County Jails

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

California lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to demand increased accountability from local sheriffs’ offices. On Thursday, Assembly Member Sydney Kamlager, D-Los Angeles, said she would demand an audit of several sheriffs’ offices’ use of state money intended to offset the costs of the 2011 realignment changes.

Since 2011, California has sent more than $8 billion to counties to cover the increased local costs. The California Constitution prohibits county officials from using that money to cut their own costs elsewhere. But lax spending rules and limited scrutiny from both state and county officials have allowed just that, McClatchy and ProPublica reported in December.

Though local governments routinely move money from one law enforcement purpose to another, doing so with realignment funds may violate state law.

Kamlager wants audits in Fresno, Los Angeles and Alameda counties. She picked those three, she said, because of news reporting into each: inmate deaths in Fresno, budget battles in Los Angeles and ongoing audit demands in Alameda.

“I want to know why we’re not figuring out how to use those dollars more effectively around mental health support in the facilities,” Kamlager said in an interview Friday. “If we had the resources at the state auditor’s office, we would have asked for many more.”