Cal satisfied with reform, though 8900 in Private Prisons

Jan. 14, 2013

Governor Brown has made his position clear. He will take the issue of whether additional prisoners should be released, back to the Federal Courts. The question to be answered is whether California has he done enough to satisfy the courts, by reducing the number of prisoners by 43,000 inmates over the last 15 months.

Governor Brown claims that medical concerns, the basis of the federal court order, have been satisfied both by medical facility improvements and  by substantial reductions in the number of prisoners.  Brown has attacked the courts as meddling with the internal affairs of California. Reform advocates on the other hand, argue that California hasn’t done enough to reduce the number of inmates, and that even a reduction by an additional 13,000 inmates as the court order demands, is only a first step in enacting necessary prison reform in California.

A related issue is the number of California prisoners in private prisons. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “State prison reports show that since November, California has been increasing the number of inmates shipped out of state. Brown last year said he intended to end the state’s contracts with private prison operator Corrections Corp. of America as a way to save money. A July research brief for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, reports that the state currently spends more than $426 million a year to buy space at prisons operated by the Tennessee-based company. (The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation contends the spending is much lower: $316 million.) The number of out-of-state inmates has run from a high of 10,000 in 2010 to a low of 8,500 last October. State prison population reports show it rose to more than 8,900 in late December”


This is a “hot button” issue for many prisoner advocates, as private prisons, located outside the state, make contact with family and community difficult at best.It remains to be seen whether the courts will lift their demand that California reduce its prison population further or whether Brown will succeed in staving off further prison reductions. But the issue of whether California has gone far enough to reduce its prison population, will continue to be a highly charged issue.

San Francisco Reentry Court: 87% fewer “Return to Prison”

THE BEST OF: The following article was published on Feb. 4th, 2012. It describes the success of the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court, and opens the door to evaluations and research based on the San Francisco Model.


The San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) was a statutorily funded pilot project administered by both the California Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The funding itself, some $1.5 million per county was provided by the federal government through 2009 Stimulus funding. Without going into structural detail here (to be saved for another more expansive article), I’d like to provide general information on how SFPRC was designed and implemented, as well as statistical evidence of its success.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) data for the 10-month period that the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court (SFPRC) was fully operational (Dec. 2010-Sept. 2011) established that the SFPRC “return to prison” rate was 1/7th the rate of regular San Francisco parolees (a reduction of over 85% over 10 months). SF’s parolee population had 1365  “return to prison” out of its 1,686 parolees (81% of the SF parole population). The SFPRC had 8 out of 70 parolees return to prison (an 11% rate).

The most important attribute of the SFPRC were its reliance on “the court as rehabilitation community” 

The SFPRC team and participants created a rehabilitation community that was a driving force for participant change. The court team encouraged and often joined participants in pro-social activities, treating participants as individuals worthy of respect. The court became a friendlier place; where strangers became friends and sometimes mentors, coffee and pastries were served, rehab sessions and counseling, honor roll meetings and award ceremonies, and other pro-social activities occurred. Participants were also expected to engage in the larger community via volunteerism and other activities (i.e. organizing family picnics).

The corollary principle employed was that positive reinforcement and minimal sanctions, rather than custody would be used to modify negative behavoirs”. 

The SFPRC embraced a true paradigm shift, pioneering the use of positive reinforcement in reentry courts; using awards, rewards, and positive, and negative incentives to recognize accomplishments.A tangible example: The courtroom bulletin board displayed the SFPRC Newsletter, awards and certificates, letters and poetry, photos of graduation and awards ceremonies, family and friends, court picnics, and newly inducted Honor Roll members. 

Minimum sanctions were used as necessary, almost to the exclusion of custody. This is especially relevant under new state law, where parole sanctions are often statutorily limited to 90 days county jail. SFPRC sanctioned 14 participants for a total of 105 days in jail over the course of the program. During that same period, SFPRC’s 70 participants achieved a 93% attendance rate, though required to attend weekly court sessions (approximately 1200 hour-long court appearances over a 10 month period). 

Over it’s 15-month life ( including planning and implementation), SFPRC modeled “a minimalist reentry court for recessionary times”(see: Though problem-solving courts” and reentry courts in particular are often accused of being wasteful, the relatively resource rich SFPRC was dealing with high-risk, serious and violent offenders, who were ultimatley far more expensive to deal with either in prison or in the community. SFPRC limited itself to  a part-time judge, court coordinator, case manager, defense attorney, parole officer and clerk. It used minimal incarceration while achieving a 87% reduction in “returns to prison”. And it successfully engaged long term prisoners, recently returned to society, in rehabilitation through a court-based community.

For a one page summary of the San Francisco Parole Reentry court’s mission, design, and statistical results, see: Final 1-Year SFPRC Report Card


New York Times Article on San Francisco Reentry Court

The New York Times published the following article on Sunday, October 8, 2011, on the closing of the highly successful San Francisco Parole Reentry Court. (see:  “Parole and Probation Courts in San Francisco are Closing After Budget Cuts” )

The San Francisco Parole Reentry Court was part of a six county statutory pilot program, that gave the San Francisco Superior Court jurisdiction and authority for the first time to determine parole conditions, including rehabilitation and supervision as well as sanctions for parole violations. It was not an easy program to start, because of the reluctance of many to take on the supervision of parolees (an executive function in California and most of the states). As it turns out, we were merely anticipating the inevitable sentencing realignment in California, that would return a majority of prisoners to county jurisdiction.

The SFPRC enjoyed the full support of the San Francisco court until this past summer, when drastic reductions in state funding caused many California Courts to reassess their ability to provide rehabilitation services. San Francisco was one of the worst hit, with over 6 million dollars of debt and prospects of closing down 25 of 63 courtrooms countywide. The court determined that the Parole Reentry court (as well as two smaller reentry courts; a  juvenile reentry court and a probation reentry court) would be closed down, because they did not provide a core function of the court. Focusing on what they considered to be their survival as a court, the San Francisco Superior Court decided to get out of the “reentry court” business. 

CDCR reports new recidivism stats

Nov. 15, 2010

The California Department of Corrections and Recidivism (CDCR) just published a comprehensive report on prison recidivism, “2010 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report” . Measured over a three-year period, inmates released in fiscal year 2005/06 have a recidivism rate of 67.5 percent.
Among the reports key findings:

  • Nearly three-quarters of felons who recidivate did so within a year of release.
  • Most recidivists returned to prison for parole violations.
  • After three years, re-released felons returned to prison at a rate 16.8 percentage points higher than those released for the first time.
  • Females have a three-year return-to-prison rate of 58 percent, which is approximately 10 percentage points lower than that of males.
  • In general, recidivism rates declined with age. Among inmates, ages 18 to 24 when released in fiscal year 2005/06, nearly 75 percent returned to prison within three years, compared to about 67 percent ages 40 to 44 and 46 percent of those 60 years of age and older.
  • Sex offenders recidivate at a slightly lower rate compared with other felons. Of the sex offenders who recidivate, 86 percent do so because of a parole violation.
  • The  blog, “The California Correctional Crisis”, has an excellent analysis of the report by Professor Hadar Aviram of the Hastings Law School.

    Stanford puts on Reentry Court Conference

    Sept. 20

    Leaders of the California Administrative Office of the Courts  (AOC) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, joined with the Federal Judicial Center in putting on a three day training on Reentry Courts at the  Stanford Criminal Justice Center (Sept.13-15). The conference provided Reentry Court technical assistance and training to seven California County Courts and seven Federal District Courts.

    Led by Shelley Curran of the AOC and Lee Seale of the CDCR, the seven California pilot courts also worked on developing common protocols, MOUs and procedures that could be implemented among all seven California pilot courts. The California Pilot Program will distribute $10 million over two years to the seven pilot courts and provide the best opportunity to date, to evaluate the Reentry Court model.

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