California Plans for smaller, less expensive prison system

April 30, 2012

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has announced its intention to reduce the number of prisons, stop construction of planned prisons, and return California prisoners from out-of-state prisons. They base their plan on the continued reduction in state prison populations (already approximately 22,000), that has resulted from the shifting of less serious offenders from prison to county facilities (see SF Chronicle article on Facebook feed on left)

According to CDCR Secretary Mathew Cate (photo on left),

CDCR’s plan will:

  • Reduce CDCR’s annual budget by more than $1.5 billion upon full implementation, including $160 million dollars in savings from closing the California Rehabilitation Center;
  • Eliminate $4.1 billion in construction projects that are no longer needed because of population reductions;
  • Eliminate $2.2 billion annually that would have been spent had Realignment not been implemented;
  • Return all out-of-state inmates to California by 2016 to bring back jobs and manage offenders closer to home while saving millions in taxpayer dollars;
  • Satisfy the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to lower the state’s prison population;
  • Satisfy the federal courts that CDCR has achieved and maintained constitutional levels of medical, mental health and dental care to avoid costly oversight

(For a complete description of the plan and Secretary Cate’s Statement, click here)

The CDCR Plan is not without it’s critics. In a L.A. Times article (click here), Emily Harris of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, said that it’s “not really a bold vision in any way… the state should be paroling more inmates and easing criminal sentences, which would help lower the prison population further”.

Conflicting Views on California Realignment

April 23, 2012

Depending on who you talk to, you will get very different views on the success or failure of California Realignement. Known as AB109, the Reform Act has reduced the number of California prisoners by more than 20,000 since its inception in October of 2011. By that definition, it clearly has achieved its intended goal of bringing down California’s prison population to limits set last year by the U.S. Supreme Court . The beds have been removed from prison gymnasiums (see photo on left). The issue being hotly debated across the state is the cost of doing so.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there has been a reduction in the number of persons who have recidivated in Los angeles County since AB109 began.  “Before realignment, California had a 67 percent recidivism rate. That means almost seven out of every 10 people we let out came back to us (within a year).” Los angeles County now reports a 25 percent recidivism rate over the initial six month period – or about 50 percent when figured at an annual rate (as reported 3/28/2012).

On the other hand, the Sacramento-based, “Criminal Justice Legal Foundation” (CJLF) claims offenders who now qualify for local jail or treatment under AB109 are already being arrested for new felonies, including violent crimes. CJLF President Michael Rushford said these reports are just the beginning. “Just six months since the rollout of the new realignment law, it is already evident that California has become a more dangerous place for law-abiding people to live and work.(as reported, 4/21/12)

Clearly, there is no consensus as to how realignment is affecting public safety. And it is too early to reach any definitive conclusion. What we do know is that California is slowly reducing the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons and shifting their supervision to the counties (mostly probation). Some believe that except for the recession, Realignment would never have happened. But whatever the reason, it has reestablished community control and responsibility for the non-violent offender and opened a door to a plethora of community based alternatives to incarceration (as reported 12/20/11).



Veteran’s Reentry Court Proposed at NADCP Meeting

At the National Association of Drug court Professionals (NADCP) Board Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, there was a good deal of discussion regarding the future of Veteran’s Court. One informal suggestion made was that a Veteran’s Court that focused on returning offenders from prison would be an appropriate expansion of the Veteran’s court concept. There are as many as 80 Veteran’s courts across the country and those that I am aware of, work with offenders are relatively recently separated from the military, who are new to the criminal justice system, with new offenses that are often dealt with through a diversionary court.

With the continued success and popularity of the Veteran’s Court, it would seem most appropriate to consider working with those who have had long histories in the criminal justice system, many of them veterans of the Vietnam era. Those with prison terms who are returning to the community or are to be released into the society clearly deserve the same degree of appreciation and consideration as more recent veterans receive in Veteran’s Courts

I have seen various statistics on the number of veterans in prison, the most widely quoted suggests that 10% of those in prison nationally are veterans (though I can not vouch for that). I have seen reliable statistics showing that there are over 2 million veterans living in California alone. For example, I would hope that California jurisdictions who are in the process of realignment, take a look at how those veterans imprisoned and released on parole in their jurisdiction are faring and investigate how we can best serve this deserving population as they return to their communities. A Veteran’s Reentry Court may be part of the answer.

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