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June 3, 2007

Advocating a sentencing commission for California

The Sacramento Bee has these two new pieces that both make an effective pitch for California to create a sentencing commission to help deal with all its sentencing and prison woes:

In related news, this newspaper article reports that a new poll shows that Californians support new prison construction to cope with overcrowding issues:

In a reversal, a poll shows Californians now overwhelmingly view prison crowding as a crisis big enough to justify the state's new multibillion-dollar construction program — a reflection of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's sway over public opinion.  Before the governor's push for prison spending, the public historically had "not placed a high priority" on prison woes, said Mark Baldassare, director of the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California.

An institute survey released Thursday also reaffirms that the public believes, more than ever, state prisons exist mostly to protect Californians and punish criminals — not rehabilitate.  Liberal Democratic lawmakers and prison-reform advocacy groups said the attitude won't help as they try to push the state toward stronger rehabilitation measures and major changes in parole and sentencing laws.

The survey discussed in this article is available at this link.

June 3, 2007 at 08:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Can anyone explain to me how a sentencing commission is anything but a politically safe way to shorten sentences? As a California prosecutor, I am the first to admit that there are plenty of inconsistencies in sentencing across the Penal Code as a result of years of high profile crime legislation, but really, will shortening sentences make us safer, lower crime rates? I think not. Better parenting, job training and opportunity, a different approach to drug use and treatment, maybe. Lowering the prison population, which can only be done by death or lower sentences, will not and cannot lower crime rates. Treatment and training in custody, sure.

So what is all this hoopla over a sentencing commission anyway? What will parole look like after the politically insulated commission? I have prosecuted enough career criminals to know that a return to the indeterminate terms of the 60s and 70s will be great for the executive and legislature's budget, but not so great for public safety. There was a reason we went to determinate sentencing and it was because people were fed up reading about violent criminals who were released so early in their sentences only to offend again. Why were they released early, certainly not because they were reformed. It was because the prison agencies only had so much money to do what needed to be done. Just as I know only have so much money and personnel at my disposal to prosecute an individual case. It is a fantasy to think that any Governor or any Legislature is not going to piecemeal adjust parole policies to free up a few million here and there. Let's face it, that is exactly what the sentencing commission is designed to do except on a grander scale.

So again, can anyone explain to me why a sentencing commission is such a great thing? If its sole purpose was to look at California sentencing and bring some uniformity to criminal conduct and sanction, I would be all for it. But it is being sold as a way make us safer, reduce crime. Ridiculous.

Posted by: | Jun 3, 2007 11:25:22 AM

This is really a story about propaganda. The report itself is about how ignorant the public is and how they are manipulated. Take this paragraph for example:

"The governor and legislature recently agreed on a nearly $8 billion prison bond package that would increase space for prison and jail beds and provide additional funding for rehabilitation programs. Although only one in three (32%) residents believes the state should spend more money on the corrections system, more than six in 10 adults (64%) and likely voters (62%) believe this prison funding package is a good idea." (p 22)

Then compare the "news" article with the opening paragraph of the report:

PPIC STATEWIDE SURVEY: CALIFORNIANS AND THEIR GOVERNMENT

California Voters: What They Don’t Know Could Hurt Us?

BUDGET WORRIES FADING FAST…BUT WHY? LOW VOTER KNOWLEDGE MAY EASE THE
WAY FOR INFRASTUCTURE BONDS, TERM LIMITS, PRISON SPENDING

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 30, 2007 — California voters admit to knowing little or nothing about some of the most critical policy issues they may be facing in next year’s elections, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. This lack of knowledge concerning pivotal proposals, such as billions of dollars for new infrastructure bonds and changing term limits, could provide the margin of success for these proposals. Moreover, what voters don’t know may be lulling them into a false sense of fiscal security at a time when the state’s finances are still on shaky ground.

Posted by: George | Jun 3, 2007 3:17:44 PM

Mr. Prosecutor, with all due respect, maybe the sentencing commission will look at facts like these: "Three Strikes" Law: Does It Really Work?

Someone with the power to make changes really should take a close look.

Posted by: George | Jun 3, 2007 3:40:14 PM

George

I think you have overlooked my point. "If its sole purpose was to look at California sentencing and bring some uniformity to criminal conduct and sanction, I would be all for it. But it is being sold as a way make us safer, reduce crime."

By the way, I am for tweaking the 3 strikes law, however a commission cannot do it. It must be a vote of the People or 2/3 of each legislative chamber signed by the Governor. Cal. Penal Code section 667(j).


Posted by: David | Jun 3, 2007 11:03:20 PM

Dear Mr Proscutor,
Having the state pay, what is it, $43,000 per year to house and offender for a strike 2 (a stolen leaf blower in the back of a truck) which equates to 20 years. Now would you please tell me how on earth California is going to be a safer place when all of these people get out of prison (and someday they will) and have no job, are middle aged, and broke? Do we just send them into the welfare system from there and pay for that too? Arnold spent a bundle changing the letterhead to add "rehabilitation" but guess what, there is no rehabilitation. None. I agree that we should be protected from dangerous criminals, but don't you think that the longer they're in for minor parole violations (say Hmmm 20years) the less likely they are going to be able to re-enter society successfully?
At the end of the day, it's about making the punishment fit the crime, Full stop.

Posted by: Chirs | Jun 9, 2007 3:42:53 AM

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