Little-known Agency Central to Criminal Justice Reform

Most people have never heard of California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC). But the little-known agency, with 83 employees and a $16 million annual operations budget, packs a punch.

And as California looks to decrease the role of the state in incarceration, and leave counties to handle lock-up and community alternatives, the board is front and center.

Tasked with improving lives and reducing costs for the state’s criminal justice system, the BSCC exerts a major influence on how the state and counties handle juvenile and adult offenders.

“The BSCC is arguably the most powerful corrections body in the state,” said Brian Goldstein, policy analyst at Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ). “They oversee data collection, programming and facility grants, and the development of regulations across California’s 58 counties.”

At least one of its members feels that the board could have more influence if members sought to carve out more of an agenda.

“It’s not a volcano of policy reform,” said David Steinhart, who is on the board and is the director of the juvenile justice program at Commonweal, a nonprofit research institute. But, “it is a powerful agency in terms of administration and the dollars that flow through it.”

Formed in 2012 by Governor Jerry Brown, the BSCC was born out of the Corrections Standard Authority, which was formally known as the Board of Corrections.

The BSCC is comprised of 10 law enforcement officials, one juvenile justice expert (Steinhart), one adult treatment expert, and one member of the public appointed by the governor.

Once part of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the BSCC is now an independent agency focused on community corrections, acting as the state’s hub for prison realignment, which is a series of laws making each county responsible to house and treat non-violent offenders. It is intended to serve in an administrative and leadership role, influence policy and collect data.

The agency oversees $2.2 billion in state financing for local jail construction and renovation. The BSCC is currently handling two requests for proposals: one for $500 million that will support adult criminal justice facilities and an $80 million RFP for counties to expand juvenile facilities.

BSCC is also taking bids for a $9.2 million pot of funds for the reduction of gang and youth violence.

The agency is responsible for measuring the success or failure of adult and juvenile justice realignment and allocating billions of dollars in federal and state funding for counties to invest in jails, juvenile halls and treatment programs.

The BSCC inspects 501 adult jails and holding cells across the state, and 115 juvenile halls and camps. Six inspectors are responsible for all the adult jails, and three are dedicated to juvenile facilities, which includes 600 holding cells in police and sheriff’s stations where minors are held.

Board Chair Linda Penner said the upcoming budget allowed for more staff, but in what capacity she isn’t sure. Currently, the agency has eight slots for jail inspectors, but only six are filled. Because of budget constraints, the state is looking more to part-time workers.

Since its inception, the agency has seen ups and down, mostly around measuring outcomes and data collection.  A state audit slammed the agency for its failure to tie any reliable outcome data to the Youthful Offender Block Grant, a $90 million annual program for county juvenile probation departments.

Board members blame a lack of resources and an outdated computer system. Plus, it’s complicated: there isn’t even an agreed-upon definition for recidivism.

Making the measurement of data collection even more problematic is that each county’s community correction system is different, said Penner, who is the former probation chief from Fresno County. “There are 58 counties, doing it 58 different ways.”

Brian Rinker is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a recent graduate from San Francisco State University’s journalism program. 

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Brian Rinker
About Brian Rinker 40 Articles
Brian is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's School of Journalism and a freelance journalist.