"Today when I think of reentry court, I am reminded that nearly every offender sentenced to time in custody will return to the community from whence they came. And thus, every sentencing court is in fact, a reentry court, creating a pathway for the offender’s reentry into society." -Jeff Tauber

Brown gets 2 year extension to reduce prison pop.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 7.10.05 AMFebruary 17, 2014

A three judge Federal Panel that has been demanding the reduction in  California prison overcrowding has decided to give Governor Brown one last opportunity to reduce prison overcrowding under  a new state plan.

The order from the three-judge panel delayed an April deadline to reduce the prison population to about 112,000 inmates. California remains more than 5,000 inmates over a limit set by the courts, even though the state has reduced its prison population by 25,000 by shifting less serious prisoners to county jails over the last two years

Seen as a major win for Brown and the democratic legislature,  Monday’s order instructed the state to immediately carry out a series of measures to either release or move inmates from state prisons. These include: increase credits for nonviolent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates; set earlier parole eligibility for some nonviolent offenders; ease parole for inmates who are older than 60 and have already served at least 25 years in prison; and expand alternative custody programs for female inmates.

The judges also backed a state proposal to appoint a compliance officer to ensure California is on track to comply with the inmate population cap.As part of the order, the court barred prison officials from exceeding the current 8,900 inmates in out-of-state prisons, limiting a tactic the Brown administration has used to lessen overcrowding in California’s prisons.

In a statement, Brown called the order “encouraging.”

“The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” the governor said. Brown has committed the state to spend $80 million over the next two year on rehabilitation and reentry programs that will increase the number of successful reentries into society.

 

Brown’s Budget makes good on Reform Mandate (mostly)

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 3.06.13 PMJanuary 6, 2013

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget for the coming fiscal year includes several proposals welcomed by reformers. They are also intended to help the state comply with a federal court order requiring the reduction of prison overcrowding by mid-April to improve medical and mental health care for inmates.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the budget package:

—allows for the parole of medically incapacitated inmates; considering parole for inmates age 60 or older who have served at least 25 years in prison; and increasing good-time credits for non-violent second-strike offenders

— Frees up $81 million for rehabilitation programs that otherwise would be spent to house inmates, if the federal judges grant the two-year extension to meet a court-ordered prison population cap.

— Spends $8.3 million to redesign the 600-bed Northern California Reentry Facility in Stockton, although it will take more than two years to ready the facility to house male inmates.

— Adds $14 million to fight the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, including cellphones.

— Allocates nearly $65 million for the Department of State Hospitals to help the agency deal with a more violent mentally ill population that increasingly comes from the criminal justice system. A U.S. District judge last year ordered increased federal oversight after finding problems with the department’s treatment of mentally ill inmates.

— Gives counties $500 million for new jail space, on top of $500 million that is now being distributed through a competitive grant program. The proposal requires that counties demonstrate they are taking steps to lower their jail populations by freeing more suspects who are awaiting trial.

— Inmates sentenced to more than 10 years in county jails under the state’s two-year-old criminal justice realignment law would again serve their time in state prisons. That would increase theprison population by a projected 300 inmates, felons that sheriffs have said they are not equipped to handle. The shift would come only if the state is able to comply with federal judges’ prison crowding reduction order.

— Reduces the cost to counties to send local inmates to state-run firefighting camps. Counties have said the current $46 daily rate is too costly. Counties would pay $10 a day for each inmate at a firefighting camp, and $81 each day the inmates are being trained.

— Requires that all felony sentences served in county jails be split between jail time and mandatory supervision, unless a judge concludes that a split sentence is not in the interest of justice.

That last item is extraordinarily important. Though Courts have had the power to split sentences under “Realignment” they overwhelmingly have declined to do so. If passed, this provision will create a right to a split sentence (unless the court makes a special finding), which will require the courts to grant “mandatory supervision” to less serious prisoners housed in county jails, releasing offenders into the community under the supervision of Probation and optimally involving them in rehabilitation programs that will help reintegrate them into the community.

Not all of these provisions can be considered reforms (the provision allowing counties to shift prisoners from county jail to prison when a sentence is more than ten years is of particular concern), but they are an important step in the right direction, including many provisions that reformers have sought since Realignment was announced in 2011.

A New Grand Bargain on Criminal Justice Sentencing

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 8.34.53 PMOctober, 21, 2013

I’ve watched the various demographics come together, the political parties spar around it, and religious and community organizations find different purpose through it. It is “Prison Reform” And it means different things to different people with very different agendas. For many its about reducing the number of offenders in prison. How that happens can be less important than getting it done. Others describe it as decriminalization, or legalization of drug offenders or other classes of offenders. Governors often talk about putting offenders into drug courts or other problem-solving courts as a way to reduce drug abuse and criminality.It is hard to understand ho we got to this place where the imprisoned have had their sentences doubled or even tripled  in twenty years, while those sentenced to prison have increased some six hundred percent over the past thirty years. How do we begin to undo the damage we have done over the last generation to our communities.

Twelve years ago I wrote a monograph, “Rational Drug Policy Reform”; A Resource Guide (Center for Problem-Solving Courts, 2001). In it, I tried to lay out the arguments for de-criminalization and legalization, in an attempt to show how different the two were, and how important it was for Drug Reform to support hte former and oppose the latter. At the time, it was clear to me those who possessed small quantities of drugs should only be charged with misdemeanors; that demanding felony convictions would destroy far more lives than it would ever save. I described the criminal law as a public health tool or a means to an end, reduction in drug abuse and criminality. Though some of what I wrote didn’t turn out to be especially prescient, I believe the decriminalization of drugs and the reduction of less serious offenses to non-prison offenses has proven to be sound policy.[click on image on left for copy of “Rational Drug Policy Reform”]

So we’re very much in the place we were then. California’s Proposition 36 was a plan to keep drug abusers out of custody,  (pretty much under any circumstance). I wrote my monograph to address the dangers of a law that neither provided incentives or sanctions to the drug offender. Proposition 36 has been forgotten by many, and there is little scientific data to support declaring it a success or failure; an unfortunate circumstance. Today, the Governor has vetoed a bill that would make possession of more serious drugs (cocaine, heroin,……) a felony or misdemeanor, depending on how the D.A. and judge charge/process the offense. Is the Governor right or wrong. He claims that he isn’t opposed to the legislation; only that it ought to be part of a grand criminal justice agreement, that will settle the many criminal justice issues that remain outstanding.

Governor Brown in 1976 reaching a grand Bargain (the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act) that turned out to be a disaster of the first order. Writing about it’s progeny in the Modesto Bee, “California today has more than 1,000 felony sentencing laws and more than 100 felony sentence enhancements spread across 21 sections in the California Penal Code.” Perhaps we need to move forward toward real criminal justice sentencing reform now, rather than put it off for another day.

Cal allows expungement of some prison felonies

061909Prison3_186762fOctober 14, 2013

As reported by the” Lawyer’s Committee”, co-sponsor with the ACLU among others, of the bill signed by the Governor on October 13.

“As a result of the “Public Safety Realignment Act” of 2011, some individuals will now serve sentences in a local jail for lower-level felony convictions that used to have state prison as the only sentence available. Under AB 651, after these individuals serve their time in jail, they will have an opportunity to ask the court to set aside their convictions, subject to a waiting period and a showing of rehabilitation. AB 651 provides a critical step forward for people who have served their sentences, helping them to avoid the stigma associated with prison time and to better access the jobs and housing they need to leave the criminal justice system permanently behind them.”

I agree with the “Lawyer’s Committee”. AB 651 is an important step forward. It allows felony offenders to seek expungement of less serious felonies, where the offender is sentenced to prison (but under California’s “Realignment Reform” serve their term in county jail). It is estimated that as many as half of offenders sentenced to prison in the future, will serve their term under county jurisdiction and post sentence supervision. That means that those offenders can return to the court to request expungement (as post-felony probationers do now), after they have completed their jail and/or court supervision. The D.A may object as they often do now, and the court may ultimately deny the request,  but the jurisdiction is with the court, as to whether a felon sentenced to prison (yet serving under county jurisdiction), may have their offense expunged by the court.

In all, a very good indicator of the direction of the criminal law, placing jurisdiction and discretion with the court as to  the felony offender’s criminal status,reentering the community.

Governor Brown takes next step in Prison Reform

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 3.06.13 PMOctober 9, 2013

Governor Brown has somewhat reluctantly taken an important step forward in prison reform. While just a few short months ago, he was insisting that he had done all he could to improve prison overcrowding consistent with community safety, he has with the passing of two important pieces of legislation still made impressive progress.

As noted  in the Press-Enterprise, on Oct. 5, Governor Brown signed into law the Trust Act, which bars police from turning over immigration detainees arrested for non-violent crimes to federal immigration officials for possible deportation. While the impact upon prisons may not be immediately apparent, the fewer immigrants held in custody either in state or county facilities (or in state or county facilities leased by federal authorities), the less the need for new prisons and jails in the state.

More importantly, Governor Brown signed a bill, a compromise hashed out with State Senate President Daryl Steinberg, that allows for the continuing imprisonment of some 9,000 prisoners (with the agreement of the three judge federal panel), while over $300 million is spent on drug and mental health treatment, and  other alternatives to imprisonment over the next three years.

If the Three Judge Federal Panel had refused to modify it’s previous order to reduce Cal prisons by an additional 9,000 by Decemebr 31, Brown would have sent the 9000 to private or out of state prisons. But the Judges seized upon the opening to  move the state toward a more lasting and “durable solution to the prison crowding problem”, and extended the  prison reduction deadline until Jan. 27 to allow the state to meet with inmate lawyers and said that they might extend the deadline even further if progress is being made.”

Importantly, as noted in a Press Democrat article, “the court also gave some directions, saying discussions about reducing prison crowding should cover juvenile offenders serving lengthy sentences, inmates being held for federal immigration authorities [addressed in the Trust Act], elderly and infirm inmates, and three strike inmates eligible for early release under an initiative approved by voters in 2010”.

All of the above is an important intermediate step in a process to reform California’s prison system. As noted in my article of February 2013, “The easy part of prison reform”, found immediately below, we are just beginning the process of reforming our sentencing and prison system.

 

 

 

 

The easy part of prison reform

Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 12.59.00 PMFeb.10, 2013

The following article is reprinted from a February posting, as it speaks to the dilemma that California criminal justice policy makers.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “Gov. Jerry Brown had his “Mission Accomplished” moment…… He believes “victory should be declared” in the state’s prison overcrowding crisis” He was also quoted as saying “California’s prison health care system is now a model for the nation,” and that any further reduction in state prisoners would endanger the public’s safety.

Clearly the Governor has much to be proud of. He had pushed through the legislature, AB109, a bill that reduced prison populations by about 50,000 prisoners in a year, and fought successfully for Proposition 30, making billions of dollars available to counties impacted by Brown’s transitioning of responsibility  for non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex-offenders to the counties. Still, what has been accomplished is the first part, the easy part of prison reform, More complicated and critical reforms have not begun to be addressed.

State prisons still house offenders who could do better in their own communities, even if it means spending additional time in county jail. AB109 was intended to encourage alternatives to incarceration, but relatively few counties are accepting that challenge, Instead most are expanding and/or building new jail facilities. Somehow, we must encourage counties to spend more of their Proposition 30 money on alternatives to prison rather than jail substitutes for prison. One obvious reform would be to encourage judges to sentence AB109 offenders to spit sentences  (offenders who must be housed in jail, even though the offense is defined as a prison offense), so that the court could supervise their jail conduct and rehabilitation in the community. More than 80% of AB109 offenders sentenced to jail receive a jail sentence that cannot be reduced or transferred to community supervision.

While Governor Brown’s prison reform limits those sent to prison to more serious offenders, it ignores the doubling of prison sentences for serious offenders over the past twenty years. Why assume that the legislature’s response to sensational crime with ever increasing penalties is rational or justified. Why assume that the labyrinth of sentencing law and enhancements make sense or are necessary or appropriate.

Then there are the obvious reforms that almost everyone supports, but for some reason are almost never implemented. Drug, alcohol and mental health treatment, education, and job training while the offender is in custody, is almost universally supported by the public. Half-Way Houses or similar Institutions, that allow the offender to transition to the outside, while continuing under custodial or other substantial supervision are also favored by most.  Finally, continued oversight of the offender while in the community, under the care and supervision of the court and supervisory agencies (through AB109 split sentencing or reentry courts) is a necessity for most successful prisoner rehabilitation.

It’s easy to see that the governor has done well in beginning the prison reform process in California. Stopping now, without continuing and expanding its scope, providing resources, assistance, and supervision to those coming out of custody, will surely set the incarcerated up for continued failure and and a return to custody.

 

Cal. budget modifies prison realignment reform

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 1.55.12 PMMay 27, 2013

The first major revisions to California’s Prison Reform Act (also known as AB109), have been made as a part of Governor Brown’s Budget Revisions submitted May 14th to the legislature. Among several proposed criminal justice provisions, is a paragraph that could have a substantial impact on the future of prison reform in California (click on image on left for full Budget Revision).

From the brief section on Corrections and Rehabilitation:

“Long‐Term Offenders—The May Revision proposes additional tools to assist counties in managing long‐term offenders. The proposal authorizes CDCR to house long‐term offenders, provided the county agrees to accept an equivalent average daily population of short‐term offenders. The proposal relies on County Parole Boards to make the determination to send long‐term inmates to state prison after inmates have served three years of their sentence in a county jail. Lastly,the proposal establishes a presumption of a minimum level of split sentencing, but authorizes a judge to make an exception if the judge determines that a split sentence is not appropriate.” 

California’s Prison Realignment Reform  (also known as AB109), was largely about keeping less serious offenders in county jail and under county supervision. Counties and county judges are forced to be more realistic and rational when sentencing offenders  to long term county jail terms. Prior to Realignment Reform, it was common for judges to sentence offenders to long prison terms, where the county kept neither  jurisdiction, nor financial responsibility for the prisoner’s incarceration. California Realignment Reform is important because it forces county officials to calculate the costs as opposed to the benefits of long terms of local incarceration, steering sentences toward shorter terms for non-serious offenders and the use of alternatives to incarceration.

One possible benefit found in the announced proposal is the final rider to the provision, “the proposal establishes a presumption of a minimum level of split sentencing, but authorizes a judge to make an exception if the judge determines that a split sentence is not appropriate.” Judges have been reluctant to sentence non-serious offenders to split sentences. This provision will encourage judges to use at least minimum split sentencing, allowing for alternative sentencing, probation involvement, incentive-based supervision, and continued judicial supervision.

It is unclear what ultimate impact this provision (if enacted) will have, how it will be administered by Parole Boards, and whether it will have a significant impact on existing realignment reform. Clearly, if it becomes law, it will need to be closely monitored.

California Struggles to Continue Prison Reform

April 22,2013

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 10.29.20 AMCalifornia is being pushed toward furthering prison reform goals by a three judge panel that has just reaffirmed its 2009 order to reduce the prison population to 109,000 o 137.5% of prison capacity. As the result of a far reaching prison reform statute (AB109, passed in 2011), the prison population has been reduced by 23,000 inmates since October 2011. to 119,542 or 149.5% of capacity..

California Governor Jerry Brown (image on the left) has argued that California have complied with the court’s order; that California prisons are habitable and its health care system adequate. The court disagreed. On April 12, the three judge panel,U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento and Thelton Henderson in San Francisco and Stephen Reinhardt,  of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles —  demand that the state reduce its prison population by another 9,500 inmates as per their previous order.The court threatened Brown and other government officials with contempt of court. The Court extended the original deadline for the reduction from June,  to December. Governor Brown promised to appeal the courts decision tot the U.S. Supreme Court.

California has been able to reduce its inmate population substantially by keeping low-level offenders in local jails instead of sending them to state prisons (and restricting the ability of parole or the courts to return them to prison). Progress toward meeting the cap has slowed, however, and officials have been reluctant to consider other ways to ease crowding. on the ground that further steps to free up space in prisons would “unnecessarily jeopardize public safety”( Los Angeles Times)..

The judges disagreed. “Releasing comparatively low-risk inmates somewhat earlier than they would otherwise have been released has no adverse effects on public safety. The state could meet the year-end deadline by transferring elderly and ill prisoners to community-based facilities, paroling some aging inmates who are serving terms of up to life in prison but pose little risk, and increasing sentence reductions for good behavior” (San Francisco Chronicle)

I believe that the court is correct. The  reduction in prison population by 9500 prisoners can be reached by releasing those who are infirm, aged, or deemed little risk to public safety. But that is just the beginning of our task. If Brown reduces California’s prison population to 109,000, the states’s prisons will still be 137.5% over capacity. California prisons need to reduce their populations below capacity. That will be a good start toward real prison reform in California, where only the serious and dangerous offender is sent to state prison (for a brief analysis as to how this might be accomplished , see on this website: Longer is not necessarily Better)

Governor Brown’s “Prison Realignment” Plan

EXTRA/Aug 08, 2011

Governor Jerry Brown responded to a three panel Federal Appeals Court order to present its plan to reduce California’s proson population by 10,000 prisoners by Novemeber, as an intermediary step in responding to the U.S. Supreme court decision to reduce prisons by 40 ,000 prisoners by 2013 (article)

The governor’s plan relies substantially on the transfer of non-violent prisoners to county jurisdiction. While the governor claims that he can not move forward on his plan untill and unless additional funds are found to pay for the reallignment to county jurisdiction, the process is already under way.

Well informed sources report that most parole matters will shift to  county court jurisdiction as of July 1st and that $40 million has been allotted to allow county courts to take over parole revocation responsibilites. While everything and anything may change as budget legislation is finalized, it is expected that the reallignment will move forward, if slowly depending on further funding.

We can also expect that all non violent non serious offenses to be resolved with county jail sentences, and only violent offenders sent to prison. Further, that almost all parole violators will be housed in county jail and any sanctions will be facilitated through the auspices of the county probation department, adjudicated under the county court system, and sanctioned through the local county jail (or other local alternative to custody).

No one could have expected such an extraordinary change in felony sentencing, reduction in prison committments, or shift to local jurisdictions. What we are seeing is a huge sea change in how felons are dealt with by the criminal justice sytem in California. And perhaps, to emphasize the point made in the previous article (State Prison Reentry Court RFP Needs State Leadership), changes in how prisoners are handled in a reentry court will only occur when state criminal justice leaders take a strong leadership position. Although it is messy and somewhat uncertain, the movement of non-violent felons from prison to jail based supervision, is an extraordinarily important and encouraging development that should be studied and hopefully emmulated in other states.

Reentry Courts beckon as Cal Prisoners return?

As California, and states across the nation, contemplate the return of non-serious offenders to local counties, it may be time to seriously consider the Community-Based alternative,  Reentry Court.

Newly re-elected Governor Jerry Brown has announced his intention of returning state prisoners to county jails. According to an article in the San Jose Mercury, “Under Brown’s plan, the state would stop housing 37,000 adult convicts each year who are short-timers, low-level offenders and parole violators. Those groups instead would be held in county jails at a cost some experts say could be half the current burden…This is just an incredibly massive shift for a state system that was sending everybody and their brother to prison,” said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford University criminal justice expert. Petersilia, who has worked with two gubernatorial administrations on the change, described it as “the most significant in California history.”

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise as similar plans have been put forward in the past. But this time, it appears that the governor’s plan has a great deal going for it. The extraordinary cost of keeping non-violent offenders in state prison, an astounding budget deficit pegged at $27 Billion, and the court case before the U.S. Supreme Court, that may force California to remove up to 40,000 prisoners from its over-crowded prisons.The question for many, is whether the state will provide the funds to counties to provide the necessary treatment and other services required to successfully reintegrate offenders into their communities.

Reentry Courts are seemingly new,and not on everyone’s mind, but they should be. The six California Counties participating in California’s Parole Reentry Court  Pilot Project, having recently begun operations, are showing unusual promise. Within the next six months, we should have a very good idea as to the efficacy of the reentry court model in handling those returning from prison. It’s time to pay attention to the reentry court, based on a drug court model, that has proven itself to be the only effective community-based program for high-risk offenders.

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