California may be dismantling its prison-industrial complex, but it's quickly replacing it with a jail-industrial complex, a new report released late Tuesday warns.

The state's prison population has plummeted -- by 22,440 inmates, or about 15 percent -- since October, according to the report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. That's when the state responded to a court order to reduce overcrowding by adopting realignment, which shifts responsibility to counties for imprisoning and rehabilitating nonviolent felons.

But now, according to the ACLU, the state is funneling billions of dollars to counties, much of it for building or expanding jails, instead of for cheaper alternatives called for in the realignment law -- including electronic monitoring, drug treatment and vocational training. The report is the first comprehensive critique of realignment since the massive plan was adopted six months ago.

"The state says locking people up hasn't worked," said Allen Hopper, police practices director of the ACLU of Northern California. "But on the other hand, it turns over billions to maintain the status quo," he said.


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Beginning in 2007, the state has awarded about $1.2 billion to 22 counties for jail construction, including $602 million early this month to 11 counties for the expansion or construction of jails. The state also gave counties about $400 million this fiscal year to spend on whatever mix of incarceration, supervision and programs they choose.

The report contends counties could easily reduce their jail populations and save money without endangering public safety, principally by releasing more inmates awaiting trial on their own recognizance or under supervision. About 71 percent of the inmates languishing in California's jails are awaiting trial and haven't been convicted of any offense.

The report recommends reforming the money-based bail system, as Washington, D.C., and Santa Cruz County have done with great success.

But sheriffs in some of the 32 counties with overcrowded lockups or court-imposed caps on jail populations before realignment criticized the report, saying the ACLU doesn't have a realistic grasp on the problems they are facing. And county officials also said they oppose a suggestion that the state freeze funding for jail construction.

"I'm already letting out the best of the worst,'' said Sheriff Adam Christianson of Stanislaus County, where many commuters to Silicon Valley live.

He said many sheriffs are taking a hybrid approach with the jail funds.

"Here's what the ACLU needs to understand -- I'm not just building jail beds," Christianson added. He's also replacing a jail that burned down, putting in a day-reporting center, building a new medical unit for mentally ill and sick inmates and adding classrooms to serve the new population of felons, who will be locked up longer.

The ACLU report also contends the state is allocating too much realignment money to counties like Kern, San Bernardino and Riverside, which sent more felons to state prison. The formula is being negotiated by members of the California State Association of Counties, who are apparently split on the question. Next year, counties will be getting nearly $855 million, about double what they received for a nine-month period this fiscal year.

The report recommends that the formula be revised to reward counties that reduced the number of people they sent to prison by adopting innovative programs before realignment.

An analyst for the county group said it will not factor crime rates into the formula, as the ACLU suggests. But the organization is still haggling over how to divide the money, with counties that got fewer funds last year pushing for change.

Philip Kader, Contra Costa County's probation chief, said the current division doesn't make sense. His county got about $4.5 million. But Tulare County, which has about a third of Contra Costa's population, got $6 million.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.