Thursday, January 21, 2010
Editors note: Just A Guy was recently released after serving a sentence in a California state prison. He continues to comment on law-enforcement and public-safety issues.
Here we continue with the anti-release rhetoric, saying that all the people are “dangerous criminals” and the releases will cause a spike in crime.
Here’s Los Angeles Police Protection League President Paul M. Weber:
“We can expect crime to go up as a result of this massive release, considering California has the highest recidivism rate in the nation, with seven out of ten parolees reoffending then returning to the prison system.”
Of course you can expect an increase in crime -- most of the people sent to county jails and prisons (especially county jails) have been given absolutely no rehabilitative programs. What is the real reason that seven out of 10 parolees return to jail, though? Is it from new crimes or parole violations? Why does California have the highest recidivism rate?
Maybe it’s because, for a long time now, parolees have been violated and sent back to prison for “technical violations” like leaving the county without permission or having contact with their significant other when they weren’t supposed to.
While it is certainly each individual’s responsibility to abide by the rules of parole, some of the things that parolees get violated for the first time are overwhelmingly ridiculous. Personally, I believe that parole should be eradicated except for truly violent offenders; parole is really a joke anyway, and it has never stopped someone that has the intention of committing new crimes from doing so. You think some parolee is going tell his/her parole officer, “I am going to go use drugs today and burglarize someone.” And, do you think all the cops know every parolee on their beat now? Give me a break.
Let’s talk about parole anyway. What is it? Really, it’s just an extension of your sentence. If you are sentenced to 4 years in prison for possession of drugs (or anything else), it’s really a seven year sentence. You could do all four years, be released and still have three years of parole and if you get violated and sent back you can wind up doing, on the installment plan, 3 more years in prison/jail.
Now, I don’t see parole as particularly difficult (just annoying) if you are really trying to get your shit together, but most people that are released on parole get out with significantly less than they went in with -- i.e. no to live, no job, and a worse attitude. Then, they are released to 10% unemployment, have no real job training or life skills, have been tainted by the California Penal System and are ripe to come back. What difference does it make if they get out now or later? They’re all getting out eventually.
When are you Californians going to get tired of spending more on prisons than your kid’s higher education? But this is the progressive state that voted against gay marriage…
Finally, why don’t you seriously consider amending three strikes? There are people that were sentenced to 25 to life for possession of miniscule amounts of drugs and their previous offenses were many, years prior. Guys sentenced to life for stealing a pizza or a bike; that’s a reality.
And you want to reduce prison spending? Legalize drugs. Period.
By Tim Redmond: January 20, 2010 01:47 PM
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Sen. James Webb's bill could help make the case for treating and rehabilitating nonviolent offenders
By Harry K. Wexler
January 20, 2010
In its Jan. 17 editorial, “A poor prison plan for California” and several other articles, The Times has detailed some of the long-standing problems in the American criminal justice system. As a member of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's prison reform strike team in 2007 and '08, I had a firsthand look at how the system is rife with inequities and in many ways dysfunctional.
Most experts would agree that the system generally fails on half its mission -- rehabilitating offenders -- and is only partially successful in the other half of preserving public safety. I say partially successful because very few inmates escape but far too many (about 50% to 75%) wind up back behind bars after their release.
These issues have been reported on many times in the media, yet in recent years there hasn't been any comprehensive response at the federal level. A proposal by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) could bring forth that response, however. The bill (S 714) would authorize a national criminal justice commission to review system dysfunctions, document what works and make recommendations for reform. The proposed commission is a historic opportunity that should not be missed.
The two most critical problems include the incarceration of nonviolent offenders -- primarily drug abusers (many with associated mental health disorders) -- and the lack of meaningful rehabilitation, which contributes to very high recidivism rates. Basically, we are endangering public safety by imprisoning many nonviolent individuals -- who would be better served at lower cost in the community -- while limiting space for violent criminals who should be incarcerated.
Despite the aforementioned challenges, substantial progress has been made. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has been especially active in supporting research, producing a body of solidly replicated findings about drug treatment within the criminal justice system. The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment has supported many effective interventions.
Most professionals in the field agree that, based on available research, workable solutions are available. For example, researchers have demonstrated that a well-designed prison program with aftercare can reduce recidivism by about 50% up to five years after release. Other research has shown that diversion of nonviolent first-time offenders can be highly effective in reducing crime and substance abuse, and that very few first-time offenders who are initially diverted then go on to prison. As we all know, prison often teaches minor offenders who could have been diverted to become chronic recidivists.
Thus, a good case can be made for reconsidering who goes to prison and for providing effective rehabilitation to those who do.
The Senate bill identifies a number of problems that need to be addressed by the commission. Consider the following data cited by the legislation:
* The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world.
* Minorities make up a disproportionately large share of prison populations.
* There are 7.3 million Americans incarcerated or on probation or parole, equal to one in every 31 adults, an increase of 290% since 1980.
* On average, two out of every three released prisoners will be rearrested, and one in two will return to prison within three years of release.
* Corrections expenditures compete with and diminish funding for education, public health, public safety, parks and recreation, and programs specifically designed to reduce the prison population.
* Despite high incarceration rates for drug-related offenses, illicit drugs remain consistently available.
* Treating addiction will significantly help decrease demand.
* Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1,200% since 1980, and a significant percentage of these offenders have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity.
* Prisons and jails nationwide have become holding facilities for the mentally ill, about 73% of whom suffer from a substance-abuse disorder.
The commission could address these issues head-on. Its review of the criminal justice system and relevant research would include looking at how other Western countries handle crime, punishment and rehabilitation. The commission would be funded for 18 months and be responsible for producing detailed findings, conclusions and recommendations to Congress and the president.
At this juncture there are many reasons to believe that we can make reform work instead of continuing to incarcerate nonviolent offenders. Unless we stop our overreliance on severe laws and fundamentally reform the system, we risk sacrificing our educational system and other important social institutions to fund the continual expansion of our prisons.
Harry K. Wexler has been researching substance-abuse treatment and policy for four decades and has directed projects that helped establish prison treatment programs in 20 states.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
Friday, January 15, 2010
By Just A Guy
They're spending a lot on prisons, but not on lunch -- this is what CDCR serves
According to an article in the SFGate and the governor’s State of the State address the governor wants to increase spending on higher education and reduce spending on prisons. Personally, I don’t care if this is political wrangling or not, it’s about the most sensible thing to come out of the governor’s office in quite some time with respect to prisons and prison spending.
"It's a very simplistic solution to a very complex problem," said Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster. "I believe the first priority of state government is to keep people safe. To cap that certainly doesn't make any sense to me."
You know, sometimes simple solutions to complex problems are the only solutions that work. It seems as if California and its government have been over thinking the whole issue on prisons for quite a while. If more money is spent on higher education then maybe less people will go to prison? Simplistic, yes, but makes sense, right?
What’s so complex about the problem anyway? The complexity really lies in how, after many years of an increasing prison budget and a decreasing higher education budget, years of crying out how awful EVERY SINGLE PERSON in prison is, years of political maneuvering, the political folks will reduce costs while standing by their claims that less spending on prisons erodes public safety. That is the complex part.
There will be many detractors like Sen. George Runner, but they are not thinking long term or big picture. They appear to be concerned only with their political futures, either that or they are just idiots (maybe both). I have, in many past blogs, expressed the idea that if you educate you reduce public safety risk. If these politician’s are really concerned with public safety they will gladly make more funds available to higher education.
Meanwhile, take a look at the pictures in this blog and ask…who is really making money from CDCR. It ain’t the inmates!
CDCR celebrates the capture of inmate cell phones -- but who do you suppose smuggles them in an makes money off them?
Oh -- and they aren't spending much money on maintenance, either -- at least, not when it comes to the plumbing. Everything at CDCR seems to be in the shitter:
By Tim Redmond: January 13, 2010 11:47 AM
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Professor Jonathan Simon started by drawing an intriguing analogy between our risk assessment process for crime and for cancer. Why are we so willing to examine evidence-based, empirically tested risk rates for the latter, while at the same time keeping the real risk levels for the former clouded in a mist of public fear? A brief look at the genealogy of this fear revealed our collective "stranger danger", generated gradually by Manson and other iconic fear figures, as well as by presidential assassinations. This public fear was generated and perpetuated by government officials of all stripes; a brief look at republican and democrat governors revealed their unified position on issues of public safety. The wall-to-wall opposition to the passage of Prop 5, led by Schwarzenegger and supported by others, was a good demonstration of what Mark Leno had said earlier in the day: no one, regardless of political association, wants to appear soft on crime.
Simon highlighted four important points in respect to our culture of fear. First, he said, risk assessment is a very difficult thing to do. Violence is highly situational, rather than an individual's pesronal trait. Second, while CDCR asks for increased budget to lock up Level IV inmates, the decision to classify inmates as Level IV goes unexamined, and it may well be that this is yet another example of risk overestimation. Third, we must not forget that the supposedly neutral "risk factors" always carry with them social factors, such as race and class, and by doing so, perpetuate stereotypes and generate more demographic divides; and, finally, mass incarceration itself interacts with the broader problem. The mention of feeble, elderly lifers on breathalyzers as "public risks" denied parole was nothing short of absurd. Instead, suggested Simon, why not direct our public safety concerns toward more urgent, and less stigmatizing, needs, such as training our prisoners to help with the very real public risks posed by disasters such as Katrina? Our labeling of people who helped others during the hurricane as potential looters and rapists is very telling of our tendency to allow moral panics about crime cloud the real sources of concern.
For some, however, objections to release are based on a much more private threat to Safety. a victim consultant with the Alameda County DA's office, provided the victims' perspectives on parole. A great part of the problem for victims, she explained, consists of a lack of familiarity with a difficult system, which does not conform to what victims expect based on their crime-TV experiences. Long before the passage of Prop 9, Alameda County provided rights to victims, but without assistance these often went unutilized. The challenges a victim faces in terms of presence in parole hearings range from simple issues of transportation to far away prisons (fees, schedules, and child care!) to issues of fear and concern; often, the victim has to encounter the offender at rather close range, or wait with the offender's family in the waiting room for the parole hearing. Under these circumstances, the victim advocates fill in the gaps for DAs and parole agents who are unable to provide them with the unique assistance that they require.
The parolees' perspective was provided by community liaison for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. The problem with release, explained Rederford, lies in releasing people completely unprepared for life on the outside, and with the same substance abuse and unemployability issues they went into prison with in the first place. The return home becomes a frightening prospect when one does not have a supportive family outside; having been humiliated and dehumanized, one has to rebuild one's life with precious little in the way of resources. Some housing programs actually become unavailable to those with criminal convictions. The concern with public safety, said Rederford, might be greatly alleviated if people were offered services and opportunities for employment which would preclude them from parole violations.
Finally, we heard the CDCR's perspective on parole reform from Evelyn Lara-Lowe, Deputy Regional Administrator for Parole. She assured us (and I believe her!) that the CDCR has no interest in bringing people back into prison. The issue of general parole is a legal given, which CDCR has to work with; she was willing to concede that there are people on parole who do not need to be under supervision. Ironically, those are the people who actually complete parole without violations. The problem is, said Lara-Lowe, lack of resources. Parole agents, and professional staff, are extremely busy and overloaded; support needs to come from the community, which is often inhospitable to formerly incarcerated people. Also, it is problematic to provide the same level of services in remote places with a relatively small parolee population.
The questions from the audience were absolutely fantastic. We got to discuss parole caseload, as well as to question the link between victimhood and punitiveness. One commentator, a psychiatrist for CDCR, said she couldn't think of a better way to make people dangerousness and unsafe than to house them in a CDCR prison.
Hadar Aviram - March 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Dan Walters: Prisons still eat into California budget - Sacramento Politics - California Politics | Sacramento Bee
Last August, in a screed about the Legislature's political cowardice on prison reform, this column pointed out that California spends a far higher percentage of its state budget on corrections than any other state and that if we reduced costs just to the average of other large states, it would save $4 billion a year.
Someone in Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration must have been paying attention. The governor cited the same data last week during his State of the State address in comparing California prison costs ($50,000 per inmate per year) to those of other states ($32,000).
"They spend less and yet you do not see federal judges taking over their prison health care system," Schwarzenegger reminded legislators. "Why do we have to spend so much more than they do?"
Why indeed? Why, for instance, does Texas imprison almost as many felons as California but spend less than a third as much on its system? The Lone Star State's per-inmate cost is roughly what California spends just on health care, especially since a federal judge seized control of the prison health system and gave a court-appointed receiver carte blanche to spend.
The biggest driver in the doubling of California prison costs over the past decade, however, is the system's extraordinarily high payroll, thanks to sweetheart contracts that pre-Schwarzenegger governors handed to the politically powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Schwarzenegger has tried, and failed, to persuade the Legislature to reduce pressure on a dangerously overcrowded prison system by, in effect, releasing some low-risk inmates and putting fewer behind bars.
His fellow Republicans refuse to go along, contending that having fewer inmates would pose a danger to law-abiding citizens. Democrats, who could approve Schwarzenegger's reforms without GOP votes, have also balked, afraid of being branded as soft on crime.
While the Legislature voted last year to trim prison costs by $1.2 billion a year, its stalling on implementation means that little, if any, money is being saved, thus contributing to the state's stubborn budget deficits.
Schwarzenegger is now taking a new tack, proposing that lower-cost private prisons take a bigger share of the load. That's equally unlikely to fly in a Legislature dominated by the CCPOA and other public employee unions. He's also suggesting a constitutional amendment that would place a cap on future prison spending vis-à-vis state support of colleges. That's more a throwaway gesture than a serious proposal.
All in all, it's one of those fine California political messes, a Gordian knot of conflicting priorities that shows no sign of being unraveled. Meanwhile, prison costs are continuing to grow, federal judges are threatening more intercession and politicians are bemoaning education cuts while shunning serious prison cost-cutting.
Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Schwarzenegger’s Brilliant Plan To Privatize Prisons
By: David Dayen Thursday January 7, 2010 1:24 pm
Let’s start with some background. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the worst chief executive to grace this or any state in recent memory, with the possible exceptions of Rod Blagojevich or the guy from North Dakota who declared martial law and barricaded himself in the Governor’s mansion back in the 1930s. Every single crisis facing the state of California can be largely attributed to him, even given the structural deficiencies of the state’s government. Consider: Arnold’s cunning plan to get elected based on slashing the state’s vehicle license fee, costing the state six billion a year, would have, if you combine that with the debt service from inevitably having to borrow that money, almost equal the entire budget deficit in 2008. Having crippled the state when times were better, his “solutions” to a depression-like popping of the housing bubble (during which time he resisted stronger regulations on predatory lenders) and a cratering economy have included corporate tax breaks (to the tune of $2 billion annually, negotiated during a time of a $60 billion dollar deficit), illegal state worker furloughs and the privatization of just about every government function.
In his State of the State address yesterday, Arnold forwarded yet another cunning plan – in this one, he would set a Constitutional amendment ensuring that prison spending never increases above higher education spending. This is bumper-sticker policy, using the same kind of ballot-box budgeting and arbitrary restraints that has handcuffed the state legislature. But it’s also fundamentally dishonest, because he would get there by privatizing state prisons:
The way we get this done is to find more cost-effective ways to run our prison system and allows private prisons to compete with public prisons. Competition and choice are always good.
California spends $50,000 per prisoner.
By comparison, the ten largest states spend $32,000.
They spend less, and yet you do not see federal judges taking over their prison health care.
Why do we have to spend so much more than they do?
If California’s prisons were privately run, it would save us billions of dollars a year.
That’s billions of dollars that could go back to higher education where it belongs and where it better serves our future.
The proper reaction to historic protests against fee hikes at UC campuses, described as the tipping point by the Governor’s chief of staff, is to bring revenues in line with such critical spending. It is not to, as Assemblymember and state Attorney General candidate Ted Lieu says, turn state prisons over to Blackwater, essentially:
Religious institutions across the board condemn private prisons as both inhumane and ineffective. The Presbyterian Church USA stated that “Since the goal of for-profit private prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders, there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the ultimate goal of the prison system . . . for-profit private prisons should be abolished.” Catholic Bishops in a resolution stated that “We bishops question whether private, for-profit corporations can effectively run prisons. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behavior, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community.
Private prisons are also dangerous, both to prisoners and to the public. In 2003 a report by Grassroots Leadership detailed a range of failures by CCA, a for-profit private prison company, including: failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners; failure to control violence in its prisons; and escapes.
I voted no last year on the corrections budget bill because it was cutting rehabilitation programs and parole supervision, both of which will result in increased recidivism. The Governor’s current proposal is even worse. Abandoning government’s core responsibility of public safety by contracting out and injecting a profit motive will result in disastrous consequences. Our nation has already been burned by our experience with Blackwater. California cannot afford to have its own Blackwater problem.”
Lieu’s being too clever by half; he voted against the corrections bill because he didn’t want to be seen as “soft on crime” before a primary to become the state’s top cop. But he’s absolutely right in this instance.
The problem with state prisons is that 170,000 prisoners are held in jails meant for 100,000, and the recidivism rate, since rehabilitation and drug treatment are completely clogged and underfunded, is the highest in the nation. We also have an insane parole policy where the overwhelming majority of people returned to prison are going there for technical parole violations. It’s by far the worst system in the country, and THAT’S what makes it the costliest. Over the past 30 years, 1,000 laws have been passed by the state legislature on sentencing, and every one of them increased sentences. It’s a cruel and immoral system. Saving a buck by turning prisons over to for-profit corporations is not only terrible policy, it’s the epitome of what Schwarzenegger has been trying to do from the moment he reached office.
He is trying to tie this massive corporate welfare subsidy to higher education to make it light and fluffy and give it a chance to pass.
Schwarzenegger is basically desperate to get the federal government to paper over his historic mistakes and destruction of state government. It’s true that the nature of Republican obstruction and a minority veto in the legislature makes any sane response to governance impossible. But that shouldn’t let off the hook the worst, absolute worst chief executive in national history.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
More that 20 years ago, California decided to get tough on criminals. Crackdowns included longer prison sentences, the "Three Strikes" law and tougher parole restrictions. Voters decided to keep criminals off the streets and away from society for as long as possible but we seem to have overlooked what affect all that might have on our prisons.
Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the only State-run prison in San Diego County. It was built in 1989 and was designed to accommodate 2,208 medium to high-custody inmates -- today more than double that number, 4,680 inmates, call the facility home. What are conditions like for the prison population?
Determinate sentencing, get-tough enhancements to prison sentences and the enactment of California's Three Strikes initiative in 1994 have combined to greatly expand the prison population, advance the age of California's inmates and produce an overcrowded, dangerous system the state can no longer afford.