Cut Crime: The Problem, The Critique, & The Plan

We want to be a community where parents feel safe letting their kids explore on their own, where women feel comfortable shopping after dark, and where no streets are off-limits. To achieve this, we need to restore a culture of accountability, be creative in disincentivizing crime, and be more proactive in reducing the likelihood that people will recommit crimes. While we do need a bigger jail, we don’t want to be a community that must build a bigger jail every few decades.

The Problem

Crime is increasing while the County has faltered in its responsibility to hold those who commit crimes in our community accountable.

  • Crime in our county’s 3 cities increased by 18% from 2021 to 2022.
  • Redding’s violent crime rate is almost equal to San Francisco’s (633 per 100k people vs. 636)
  • The county’s arrest rate (known as the clearance rate) has dropped to half what it was 10 years ago for property crimes (meaning property crimes result in an arrest half as often as they did in 2013)

 

The Critique

  • The third floor of the jail (representing ~⅓ of the jail’s capacity) was closed for over a year. The Board did not seem to prioritize the reopening of the jail. In fact, it took city council members from the county’s 3 cities speaking up at public comment last summer to get reopening the jail on the Board’s agenda. 
  • The Board has not made progress on developing a plan to finance the building and operation of a jail addition. The Board decided last January to pursue efforts to build a jail annex downtown near the current jail. They didn’t have a funding plan then for the $125M construction project and they haven’t announced one yet, even though the state will be vacating the old courthouse on February 20th, making it possible for the process to move forward.
  • The Board plans to expand the jail without developing a long-term plan to address chronic staffing shortages and without ensuring that the current jail and associated programs are producing the results we want – prevent crime and reduce the risk of re-offense. 

 

The Plan

  • Increase consequences for low-level offenses: We must reduce low-level offenses, such as stealing from retail shops, because they foster a culture of lawlessness and start a lifestyle of crime that can lead to felonies. State policies, such as Proposition 47, have made this more difficult, but they must not stop us from being creative in finding ways to disincentivize low-level offenses. A large portion of those arrested don’t have jobs. I would like us to explore whether those who commit these crimes and don’t have jobs can be required to participate in work programs, such as the state’s fire camp for prison inmates at Sugar Pine, or community service programs.
  • Use time in jail to reduce the likelihood of reoffending: Today, inmates in Shasta County Jail spend 20 out of every 24 hours in a room the size of a closet with one other criminal and almost no other items. While jail should not be a pleasant experience, we should use that time to increase the likelihood that inmates become more productive members of society when they leave. We have just 3 small rooms for programming in the existing jail and one is used to help those with mental illness be able to stand trial. Research shows that prisoners who get a Bachelor’s degree have a dramatically reduced chance of re-committing a felony. How can we use the time they are spending in jail to educate them, build employable skills, and change the anti-social/criminal mindsets many have developed?
  • Help people make a successful transition out of jail: Today, our correctional deputies are so glad someone is leaving the jail so they have room for someone else, that people are generally released without much thought about what will happen next. Some are released at 2 in the morning with nothing but the clothes on their backs. How can we expect these people to be successful? Before we release people from jail, they should have a plan for transitioning well that has been approved by county staff. We should accelerate the implementation of Cal-AIM, which allows inmates to access Medi-Cal healthcare benefits up to 90 days before leaving jail so they don’t experience a lapse in coverage.

When people do leave jail, we should require them to participate in programs like the Day Reporting Center (DRC), which can dramatically reduce their odds of reoffending. However, outcomes are dramatically different depending on how long someone participates in the DRC program. DRC participants who stay less than 60 days have a 52% chance of committing a felony within 3 years, while those who stay over a year, have just a 26% chance of reoffending. We need to figure out how to get more people to stay in the DRC program for at least a year.

 

Develop a funding plan for the new jail: 

While the Board has asked County staff to move forward with the exploration of the downtown location for a jail annex, this is not a done deal. The County still has to perform an environmental survey and determine if it would make more sense to have another county department repurpose the old courthouse building rather than demolish it to make room for the new jail. As this process unfolds, it may be wise to revisit the estimates for building a completely new jail outside of downtown Redding, which may be cheaper to operate (on a per person basis) and more effective in preventing future crimes.

I would ask the County’s CEO to come up with 3 plans for funding the jail annex in the first 2 months on the board. The County CEO has significant financial experience as a county treasurer, which makes this a perfect assignment for him. I would direct the County CEO to look in 3 places for the funds needed to build the new jail:

  • Capital projects: The County has budgeted ~$60M on capital projects over the last 4 years. If we were to freeze all but emergency capital projects and those for which the funding for them is restricted to that project, could we save somewhere in the neighborhood of $60M over the next 4 years?
  • Discretionary revenue increases: Over roughly the last 8 years, the county’s discretionary revenue has increased by about $32M cumulatively. Could some or all of this additional revenue be diverted to the construction of the jail annex?
  • Grants for rehabilitative services: There is more funding at the state and federal levels for rehabilitative services than the construction of a traditional jail. I’d like to have our county explore funding opportunities in these areas in case we could use them to fund portions of the construction of the jail annex.

Butte County is in the construction phase of a jail expansion expected to be completed in spring 2025. The project is expected to cost nearly $45M, of which $40M is coming from the state. Shasta County, unfortunately, gave back 3 grants from the state totaling over $80M over the last 15 years. The remaining cost is paid using jail impact fees, sheriff impact fees, and money from the Local Assistance Rural and Small County Law Enforcement Funds. Butte County will not tap its general fund once to fund the expansion.