« Gall and Kimbrough SCOTUS argument wrap-up | Main | Intriguing insights about lethal injection concerns »

October 3, 2007

Ted Koppel looking at California's prison overcrowding

As detailed at this page, Ted Koppel has this new documentary on the Discovery Channel entitled "Breaking Point" which takes an up-close look at California's prison crisis.   Here is how the piece is previewed:

What does the California prison system have in common with Harvard University?  It costs precisely as much to house, feed and guard one prisoner for one year in a California state prison as tuition, meals and housing cost for a student enrolled for one academic year at Harvard.  As far as California taxpayers are concerned, it gets even worse.  Their prison system is so overcrowded that it’s reached a breaking point.  Either the state finds a long-term solution or the federal courts have warned they’ll begin ordering the release of inmates, just to ease the crush.

In this two-hour broadcast, Ted Koppel examines how California got to this point and presents an inside view of the crisis through in-depth interviews with inmates, guards and prison officials at California State Prison Solano in Vacaville.

Designed to accommodate no more than 100,000 inmates, California’s prisons now hold 173,000, each at an annual cost of $43,000. How did things get so out of control? Mandatory sentencing is a big part of the answer.  When California voters threw their support behind a get-tough-on-crime bill that came to be known as "Three Strikes and You’re Out," the state prison system filled up and is now overflowing.

While shooting, Koppel spent a number of days among the general population at Solano. His reporting focuses on the inhabitants of H Dorm, where inmates are stacked in triple-deck bunk beds on an old indoor basketball court.  Correctional officers are so badly outnumbered that prison officials keep inmates segregated by race and gang affiliation in a desperate effort to avoid friction and maintain control.  Even so, Solano still sees three to four race riots a year. Using smuggled cell phones, gang bosses continue running criminal operations on the street from behind prison walls.  At the same time, they’re running drug and prostitution rings inside Solano.

October 3, 2007 at 09:58 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200e54f03a7208834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ted Koppel looking at California's prison overcrowding:

Comments

I work in a privatly owned prison here in California and contrary to most peoples idea the prison is a very well run facility and
would beat out most State run facilities in
cleanliness, professionalism and the care and welfare of the inmate population. I am not a Correctional Officer, but as a member of the unit staff I am in the my assigned unit with 260 inmates on a daily basis.

Posted by: L. Roberts | Oct 4, 2007 5:24:17 PM

I believe a population cap is the only answer to this problem. All I keep hearing is how it will put our streets in danger. How is that if the release is non-violent criminals. In order to faciliate the sick and those who have violent crimes, releasing non-violent criminals is the only answer. There can be other rehabilitation for those criminals. Our tax money should be paying for education. Instead, we pay to house criminals who shouldn't even be in prison.

Posted by: Jaime | Oct 7, 2007 12:36:22 AM

My brother is a "victim" of this lopsided judicial system. He's a 3-strikes "offender" who has never murdered anybody, used a gun, raped anyone, committed a robbery or dealt drugs. He basically gets in bar-fights with like-minded individuals and definitely has a drinking problem - his problem is that he should stay out of biker bars. He came close to doing 30 years for this last fight but was able to pull 14, of which we're hoping he'll only do 7. Then, he'll be released into the same state that put him away for almost his whole life. I cannot believe the good people of California are OK with this. They don't understand the criminals they're creating in the process of "protecting" themselves? The whole system IS broken, and it will take something drastic to fix it, if it's even possible. It's all fine to talk tough until it happens to your brother, or father, or uncle or son. I have no sympathy for murderers and rapists - but come on, what happened to common sense? What happened to giving judges the chance to JUDGE? I am waiting for this documentary tonight, and am just glad that someone is finally paying attention - although it seems that it's too little, too late. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: Andrea | Oct 7, 2007 5:20:36 PM

Currently, California law holds that any inmate assigned to a camp, "...who is eligible to earn one day of worktime credit for every one day of service pursuant to Section 2933 shall instead earn two days of worktime credit for every one day of service." This means that second-striker inmates who have had to work that much harder to prove themselves to get into the program are ineligible for such credits and instead remain bound by the credit limitations of the three-strikes law. This should be one group of people worth consideration for early release and should be entitled to the same credit earning ability as all other camp inmates considering how hard they have worked to get into the program and how hard they are currently working fighting California's wild fires. With camps having the lowest level of security, CDCR screens inmates very carefully and does not allow inmates who are a considered a threat to society into the camp program, YET, we are keeping second-striker camp inmates in longer under the three-strikes law as if they are a threat to society. Contradicting, isn't it??

An inmate named Travis Tippets, a "second-striker" serving 6 years for robbery, was interviewed by Ted Koppel. Anyone who knows anything about the three strikes laws knows that Tippets may have been a second-striker, but he was not sentenced as a second-striker...not with a 6 year sentence for robbery. I personally know a second-striker currently serving 12 years with a mandatory minimum of 80% of his term for the same crime as Tippets...robbery. Tippets says he kicked his victim in the head. The second-striker I know never made any attempt to physically contact the victim, nor was the victim physically harmed in the commission of the crime. And yes, he truly had only one prior stike from many years earlier when he was 18 where he walked into an open garage and took a purse out of an unlocked car.

So why the great disparity?? Well, that's the California justice system for you.

The inmate I know just passed his 7th year with 2 1/2 to go and is one those second-striker inmates in the camp program. By the time he's done, he will have served almost 10 years of his 12 year sentence.

Posted by: Anna | Oct 9, 2007 11:11:23 PM

As a psychology student I watched this report from Ted Koppel and it was very interesting BUT lets face it the only way we, in the United States, will ever get out from under the massive debt or even possibly get ahead, having to do with prison and prisoners,is if we start using the old eye for an eye adage. China uses it and their crime rate is unbelieveably low for the large amount of people there,1/4 of the worlds population, although it is starting to rise since the death penalty has been put into the higher courts hands. They also use rehabilitation so the inmates get out and have places to go to work and such-without these prisoners will continue to play revolving doors with the prison system. Before any of this can be put into practice our govenment hqs to stop using our money for their personal use such as private insurance that costs an arm and leg but covers literally everything when there are millions of children out here without any healthcare, getting raises for cost of living-hmm I cant even remember my last raise for that, getting paid for a doing a job that Im no longer doing...I dont ever remember getting paid for that!

Posted by: viki | Oct 11, 2007 12:29:50 PM

As a psychology student I watched this report from Ted Koppel and it was very interesting BUT lets face it the only way we, in the United States, will ever get out from under the massive debt or even possibly get ahead, having to do with prison and prisoners,is if we start using the old eye for an eye adage. China uses it and their crime rate is unbelieveably low for the large amount of people there,1/4 of the worlds population, although it is starting to rise since the death penalty has been put into the higher courts hands. They also use rehabilitation so the inmates get out and have places to go to work and such-without these prisoners will continue to play revolving doors with the prison system. Before any of this can be put into practice our govenment hqs to stop using our money for their personal use such as private insurance that costs an arm and leg but covers literally everything when there are millions of children out here without any healthcare, getting raises for cost of living-hmm I cant even remember my last raise for that, getting paid for a doing a job that Im no longer doing...I dont ever remember getting paid for that!

Posted by: viki | Oct 11, 2007 12:32:50 PM

There is good news and bad news about the prison overcrowding problem, depending on which facts you want to use!

The good news is that, using Legislative Analysist (LAO) data, there is currently a manageable shortage of 10,821 prison beds. LAO prison bed figures are based on American Correctional Association prison standards and show a permanent capacity of 156,503 prison beds. Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation report a “design capacity” of 90,025 prison beds. Based on the LAO figures, the State can eliminate overcrowding by increasing contract beds from a very low 4% of permanent capacity to 7%. There is no need to spend any money for construction other than what will be required by a Federal court for additional prison medical beds.

The bad news is that our Governor and Legislature apparently prefer the design capacity figures rather than LAO figures and will spend $6.5 billion for 40,000 more prison beds. There has never been an explanation of why the LAO bed figures are not used or even an explicit statement about the exact bed shortage. Some might think that our Governor and Legislature are influenced more by the correctional employee unions than independent correctional system analysis!

Parole Agent III, Retired, DC&R, Former Criminal Justice Planner, California Council on Criminal Justice & California Youth Authority [email protected], Lincoln, CA 95648

Posted by: rich mckone | Nov 20, 2008 10:45:39 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB