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August 21, 2009

Debate and drama continues in California over prison and sentencing reform

This article from the San Jose Mercury News, headlined "California prison plan stalls in Assembly; new plan to be considered Monday," provides the latest news on the state and fate of prison and sentencing reforms being considering in California.  Here are the basics from the start of the article:

After an acrimonious debate over whether dangerous criminals would be released to the streets before their sentences expire, the state Senate narrowly agreed Thursday to make sweeping changes to the correctional system to relieve severe overcrowding in state prisons.

Hours later, the Assembly balked. Speaker Karen Bass said she plans to strip the most controversial provisions that would have trimmed the state's prison population by 27,000 inmates. The Assembly version would keep about 10,000 more inmates behind bars and leave the state with a new, nearly $200 million budget hole, Bass said early today.

Bass said the new plan — to be considered Monday — would do away with proposals by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to allow home detention with electronic monitoring for inmates with less than 12 months to serve, who are over age 60 or who are medically incapacitated.  The Assembly will also reject the Republican governor's plan to lower sentences for certain property crimes to misdemeanors, making those offenders ineligible for prison. But the Assembly plan would let inmates earn up to four months of early release credits for completing educational, vocational and other rehabilitation programs, up from six weeks in the Senate proposal.

The events underscored the difficulty of addressing public safety issues in the highly partisan and political atmosphere of the Capitol, where prison reform has been stymied for years.

The article closes with this effective discussion on the challenging intersection of political realities and sound policy-making in this context:

The hesitation in the Assembly in part reflects the political reality of term limits.  Members in that body can serve only six years and frequently are looking ahead to run for other offices.  Even many Democrats could find it difficult to vote for the prison reforms, knowing they could be cast as soft on crime by a future opponent, particularly if one of the inmates granted house arrest under the measure went on to commit a violent crime.

"Some of my members thought it should have gone further, and others thought that it went too far," Bass said of the Senate-passed plan after adjourning just before midnight. "You do have a lot of hysteria that was whipped up. We were going to release all these people, and that scares folks."

Still, Schwarzenegger urged lawmakers to be courageous and vote for the proposal, which is opposed by many law enforcement agencies. Other criminal justice experts have endorsed many of the plan's reforms. "It's always ... politically risky to talk about these kinds of issues," the governor said. "But we need to do what is right for the state."

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August 21, 2009 at 10:13 AM | Permalink

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Tracked on Aug 21, 2009 5:49:28 PM

Comments

Who is Afraid of Early Releases and Non-Custodial Sentences?

Not the American public according to a study conducted by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Podcast on the 9th Circuit ruling:

Morning Review Friday with Roy Ulrich, Fri, August 21, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009 7:00 AM

Media files
kpfk_090821_070030mr_fri.MP3 (MP3 Format Sound, 13.3 MB)

Or click on Prof. Berman's California Corrections Crisis link to the right under Criminal Law Blogs.

Posted by: George | Aug 21, 2009 1:38:06 PM

That outfit is a biased, left wing, fringe group, devoid of any credibility.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 22, 2009 9:14:13 AM

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