|Budget Issue:||Redirection of Some Sex Offender Commitment Program Savings Not Justified|
|Program:||Department of Mental Health|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Recommend the Legislature adopt the Governor’s proposal to reduce the Sex Offender Commitment Program by $10.3 million. However, reduce the proposed redirection for DMH legal work from $3.1 million to $1.2 million and require DMH to contract with DOJ for legal services; and, thereby increase the net General Fund savings from $7.2 million to $9.1 million.|
The Sex Offender Commitment Program (SOCP) evaluates individuals to determine if they meet the statutory criteria, enacted in 2006 by Proposition 83 (Jessica’s Law), for civil commitment as a sexually violent predator. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation refers these individuals to DMH for evaluation. The current-year budget for this program is $21.6 million General Fund. The May Revision proposes to reduce SOCP funding by $10.3 million General Fund. Of this amount, $3.1 million would be redirected to pay for costs associated with DMH litigation, and other legal matters. As such, the net General Fund savings would be $7.2 million.
We have no issues with the proposed $10.3 million reduction. According to the department, it is the result of a number of factors, but mostly reflects a change in the mix of individuals referred for clinical evaluation. In recent years, an increasing share of the individuals referred for clinical evaluations has already been evaluated by DMH, and, since the evaluations of “re-referrals” are less costly than initial evaluations, this has resulted in program savings. DMH estimates that in the current year 70 percent of individuals being evaluated are re-referrals. According to the department, these individuals are typically parole violators returned because of a technical violation. The reduced funding need also reflects lower than anticipated workload, and reduced rates for related contract costs.
While have no issues with the $10.3 million reduction of SOCP funding, the department has not provided adequate justification for the proposed redirection of $3.1 million to establish 6 legal positions at DMH, and contract for outside counsel.
Historically, the state Department of Justice has performed legal work for the department. Unlike many other departments, DMH is not billed by DOJ for legal work performed by its staff. Rather, DOJ is provided General Fund monies to cover the staff costs associated with all “non-billable” departments. Due to recent budget reductions at the state Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s office has reduced the total number of hours of legal work it will perform for DMH by 8,000 hours (5,000 hours of attorney work, and 3,000 hours of paralegal work). In response, the department now proposes to establish in-house positions and contract with private counsel for its legal workload at an estimate cost of $3.1 million. However, at current DOJ rates ($170/hour for attorneys, and $120/hour for paralegals), we estimate it would cost only $1.2 million for the department to contract with DOJ to continue providing legal services. Accordingly, we recommend the Legislature reduce the redirection to $1.2 million, and in so doing increase the net General Fund savings to $9.1 million.
LAO Recommendation: Recommend the Legislature adopt the Governor’s proposal to reduce the Sex Offender Commitment Program by $10.3 million. However, reduce the proposed redirection for DMH legal work from $3.1 million to $1.2 million and require DMH to contract with DOJ for legal services; and, thereby increase the net General Fund savings from $7.2 million to $9.1 million.