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December 21, 2006

Schwarzenegger's plan to reform California's prison problems

As detailed in this extended AP report, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced his proposals for reforming his state's sentencing and prison woes.  Here are some highlights:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he will seek a review of California's prison sentencing guidelines, a politically risky undertaking that is part of a wide-ranging plan to address the state's burgeoning prison crisis.

The governor also is proposing an $11 billion building program to add space for thousands of additional inmates and changes to the state parole system. Schwarzenegger characterized the state's prisons as in crisis and "in deep need of reform."...

Schwarzenegger proposed a 17-member commission that would include four legislators, the attorney general, the corrections secretary, a judge and representatives of law enforcement and crime victims' groups. They would serve four-year terms. Commissioners would spend their first year examining whether California's mandatory three-year parole period could be safely shortened for some ex-convicts...

Another pillar of Schwarzenegger's reform effort is creating more space for state prison inmates and those being housed in county jails. The prison system is designed for about 100,000 inmates but houses 174,000. Many convicts are being held longer at county jails, overwhelming that system, as well. Schwarzenegger already has implemented an emergency plan to transfer nearly 2,300 inmates to private prisons in other states. He now wants to add 28,000 beds at state prisons and 50,000 at the county level.

Govenor Schwarzenegger's official press release is here, and his office has additional information under these links:

December 21, 2006 at 09:14 PM | Permalink

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The Governor is lucky he got permission from prison guard unnion. Or maybe they wrote the plan.

Monday, May 24, 2004

In California, the prison industry is the fastest growing industry around. In fact, if you want to talk about pure political muscle, there is no lobby quite as strong as the prison lobby. Consider what the prison guard's union has helped to accomplish in the last 20 years. They have increased tenfold the number of inmates in prison, they have increased exponentially the number of prisons, they have backed numerous draconian laws to ensure that more and more people go to prison for longer and longer for doing less and less.

Plenty of you have seen me write about people facing absurd amounts of time for relatively minor offenses, based in part on things they did when they were 16 years old, or things that happened 25 years ago. Now they face life for possession of a rock of cocaine.

The prison union has done more than that, though. They have also leaned on politicians to ensure that only district attorneys are appointed as judges. In the administrations of Governors Duekmeijian and Wilson (16 years total from 1982-1998), and even Gray Davis, judges were overwhelming chosen from the District Attorney's office. Thus, the judiciary is filled with law enforcement, with an agenda of putting away as many people as possible, no matter how much we have to subvert the laws to do it.

There is more at the link to Public Defender Dude's blog.

Posted by: George | Dec 21, 2006 9:48:32 PM

You really should consider a couple basic prison overcrowding facts before proposing prison reforms:

• Overcrowding does not involve inmates serving long terms for serious crimes. There is plenty of room for all such offenders - none will ever be released due to overcrowding.
• The actual 16,600 prison bed shortage exists only because thousands of less serious offenders and parole violators, serving terms of less than a year, have been diverted to prison due to the long term, very severe county jail bed shortages . These short term offenders occupy about 30,000 to 40,000 prison beds, causing overcrowding.

The 40,000 prison bed construction package will cost taxpayers about $6.2 billion for construction and $1.4 billion annually for the 30 to 40 year life span of the new beds. It is not needed. When feasible, prison overcrowding is resolved without construction. Governor Reagan reduced the inmate population by early release and closing one of the state's prisons without significant problems . Simply increasing inmate work time credits for selected low risk inmates would provide immediate prison overcrowding relief, reduce annual operating costs by about $.5 billion and avoid spending any of the $7.7 billion, not an insignificant savings.

Posted by: rich mckone | Jun 3, 2007 12:51:41 PM

You might be pleased to learn two facts: Prison overcrowding can be eliminated for $1.5 billion; and $6.2 billion can be saved by not building 40,000 unneeded prison beds.

Prison overcrowding and the very high parole revocation rates are simple system problems with the same cause - a long term, massive county jail bed shortage . Both problems are eliminated if the state funds both construction and operating costs for 16,600 county jail beds to house offenders now serving short terms in prison due to the jail bed shortage. Also, the state would realize savings of up to $.5 billion in annual prison operating costs and a substantial prison bed surplus would develop as parole revocation rates declined.

Prior to the county jail bed shortage; parolees charge with less serious or purely technical parole violations were routinely held in county jail until a local program could be developed. Severe jail overcrowding necessitated transfer to prison for violation disposition which almost always meant a revocation term served in prison. This factor caused California to have by far the highest parole violation rate of any large state.

You might not be real happy with the fact that our leaders have no intention of following this money saving approach but instead are committed to spending $6.5 billion to build 40,000 prison beds even though more prison beds are not needed. Why? That is a really good question you should ask your elected representatives.

Rich McKone, Executive Officer, California Coalition on Corrections, Parole Agent III, Retired, DC&R, Former Criminal Justice Planner, California Council on Criminal Justice & California Youth Authority

Posted by: Rich McKone | Jul 4, 2007 4:26:03 PM

Remember the “Cowardly Lion” in the Wizard of Oz? He’s back!

A Governor, who once pledged to "blow up the boxes" of state government, is too politically timid to even begin to deal with a routine prison bed shortfall of 16,600 beds. Other administrations easily dealt with correctional bed shortages; county sheriffs deal with it every day. Sheriffs release about 20,000 inmates a few days early each month. Governor Reagan dealt with overcrowding by reducing average length of stay by a few days (and closing a prison) without significant problems .

Instead of simply dealing with prison overcrowding by bringing prison capacity into line with demand, our famous Governor caved in to public employee unions and opted to literally waste $6.5 billion for 40,000 unneeded prison beds. It will take years to bring the new beds on line and will result in a 32,000 prison bed surplus by 2012 according to the Legislative Analysist .

How difficult would it be for our famous and timid Governor to actually deal with overcrowding on a rational basis? How about a couple 10 minute phone calls? He could call the chairman of the Board of Prison Terms and tell him or her to reduce average revocation terms for technical parole violations. Reducing terms by 30 days saves 5,900 prison beds and 60 days saves 11,700 beds. He could also phone the Director of Corrections (& Rehabilitation) and tell him to adjust the inmate work incentive program to reduce average days served in prison by 8%, from 587 days to 543 days. The 16,600 prison bed shortage would be eliminated and annual prison operating costs reduced by about $450 million. It also avoids spending any of the $6.5 billion for more prison beds. While talking to the Director, he could also tell him to start complying with the Penal Code section requiring the discharge of parolees after 12 months unless there is good cause to retain them.

It should be noted that overcrowding has nothing to do with inmates serving long terms for major crimes. There is plenty of room for all such offenders - none will ever be released due to overcrowding. The prison bed shortage exists only because thousands of less serious offenders (often referred to as wobblers) and parole violators, serving terms of less than a year, have been diverted to prison due to the long term, severe county jail bed shortage. Basic correctional policy dictates that short term offenders, absent other factors – usually security, serve their terms in county jail (at far less cost) not prison . These short term offenders occupy about 30,000 to 40,000 prison beds, causing overcrowding .
Problem solved and our timid Governor can focus on real issues like the State budget.

Hey, Gov! Find the nerve!

Rich McKone, Executive Officer, California Coalition on Corrections, www.rebuildcorrections.lincal.com; Parole Agent III, Retired, DC&R, Former Criminal Justice Planner, California Council on Criminal Justice & California Youth Authority richmck@starstream.net, Lincoln, CA – (916) 645-1219/Cell: (916) 216-5902


Posted by: Rich McKone | Jul 25, 2007 9:08:56 PM

Copy of a letter sent to the Governor on 1-12-08
I am a small business owner with a mentally ill Stepson

Dear Governor Schwarzenhagger,

Thank you for allowing offenders that have served their prison terms in full to have to serve out a mandatory parole period of 2 or 3 years after release.

Thank you for allowing the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Adult Parole Operations to maintain the “Trail-em, Nail-em and Jail-em” mentality and to not know or care about the mental status of their parolees.

Thank you for detaining my stepson, Michael, writing him a citation for PC148(A)(1), (Resisting, delaying or obstructing officer) while walking from the bus stop to our home after attending a parole mandated computer lab class at the Parole Office in Ontario, CA.

Thank you for allowing the Parole Agent to give the green light to the Sheriff’s Department to invoke PC3056 (Prisoner’s on parole shall remain under the legal custody of the Department and shall be subject at any time to be taken back within the enclosure of prison.) Thus sending Michael back to State Prison.

And most of all! Thank you for taking the responsibility of housing, feeding and caring for Michael at Taxpayer’s expense even through the prisons are overcrowded and California’s budget is not balanced.

Posted by: Rich Shyer | Jan 12, 2008 8:03:00 PM

I am a recently retired newsparer reporter and mother of a former drug abuser (now straight for over three decades) who writes ebooks about addictions. My current ongoing project will include Part Two, Ending Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Non-Violent Drug Abusers. Thank you for your good work defending those who, imho, are victims of political hubris and special interests. JMB

Posted by: Johanna | Nov 16, 2008 10:53:22 AM

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