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January 27, 2010

"California launches plan to cut prison population"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Los Angeles Times article which provides an update on the latest state of the debate over prison populations in The Golden State.  Here are the basics:

State prison authorities Monday began reducing the number of parole violators sent back behind bars and offering inmates more opportunity to shorten their sentences, as part of a plan to decrease the prison population by 6,500 inmates over the next year.

Low-risk offenders, including those convicted of nonviolent crimes, will not have regular supervision by a parole agent. And they will no longer be returned to prison for technical violations such as alcohol use, missed drug tests or failure to notify the state of an address change.

Parole agents will reduce the number of inmates they supervise to focus on those the state deems to be at highest risk of committing more crimes, such as people who have committed sexual crimes and other violent offenses. Each agent's caseload will fall from 70 parolees to 48.

In addition, prisoners can shave time off their sentences by working on firefighting crews or by obtaining a high school diploma or trade-school certificate or by completing drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Over time, prisons chief Matthew Cate said, the rules will lower the rate at which parolees are returned to state lockups, reduce crime overall and "save, over the course of a full year, a half a billion dollars for California taxpayers." The state will thus address its prison overcrowding problem while "significantly increasing public safety," said Cate, who heads the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Some law-enforcement officials, state legislators and crime-victim advocates took a different view, predicting a spike in crime in California as more people leave prison earlier with less supervision. LAPD Lt. Brian Johnson, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the state "will start to release numerous dangerous felons into our community."...

The changes are occurring as the state has slashed budgets for education and rehabilitation programs in prisons. "These people are not rehabilitated, and yet we're going to open the door and let them out?" said Harriet Salerno, president of the group Crime Victims, speaking at a Capitol news conference that was also attended by representatives of Los Angeles police officers and Los Angeles County sheriffs' deputies.

Sheriff Lee Baca said he is "very concerned" about the changes. He has ordered his deputies to meet with low-level offenders released from prison and tell them about community services such as mental health and drug rehabilitation programs, said Sheriff's Lt. Wayne Bilowit.

Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), a former prosecutor running for state attorney general, introduced a bill Monday that would give local law enforcement officials a greater role in blocking the release of inmates they deem to be a risk to the public.

On a related front, the Los Angeles Times also has this additional blog posting reporting that "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger floated a different approach to trimming down California’s bloated prison budget on Monday: pay Mexico to build new prisons and ship off California’s incarcerated illegal immigrants south of the border. "  Here's more:

“We can do so much better in the prison system alone if we can go and take inmates, for instance the 20,000 inmates that are illegal immigrants that are here, and get them to Mexico,” Schwarzenegger said during a question-and answer session at the Sacramento Press Club. “Think about it.”  It’s cheaper to build prisons in Mexico, Schwarzenegger reasoned, and it’s cheaper to staff them there to boot.

“We pay them to build the prison down in Mexico,” the governor said. “...Half the costs to build the prisons and half the costs to run the prisons. That is money -- $1 billion right there -- that could go into higher education.”

The idea is not a new one. Jim Nielsen, a former head of the state’s parole board and now a state assemblyman, promoted the idea in the mid-1990s.  It never happened.  The governor’s office said no specific prisoners-in-Mexico plan is in the works -- just yet.  “There’s no proposal,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear.  “He was mentioning a creative solution we should talk about.”

So, in service to the Governor of California, let's start talking about the pros and cons of the creative idea of the US funding the building of prisons in Mexico and then sending US inmates that are illegal immigrants to serve their time south of the border.

January 27, 2010 at 03:42 PM | Permalink


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Or the state could charge Mexico for the costs they incur prosecuting and housing Mexico's criminals and seize Mexican property to pay it off. If we were to hold the Mexican government responsible for the mayhem their citizens cause north of the border I think a wall would go up real fast on that side and we might finally get some relief on our borders from the wave of criminality that washes across it.

If Americans were illegally crossing the Mexican border in the numbers that Mexicans do into America, and committing robberies, rapes, and killings at the rate Mexicans do, you would hear the howling from Mexico all the way to DC, and you can be sure that American criminals in Mexico wouldn't get the deference Mexicans do here.

Sending them back isn't an option. Mexico has no interest in incarcerating scum they would rather just pawn off on our streets. What a laugh.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Jan 27, 2010 3:58:29 PM

Wow, I think you might have broken the record of making the most unsubstantiated claims per word. How efficient. Next time, try actually reading something - like the research that shows immigration having a downward effect on crime, for starters - before spouting off on a xenophobic rant. Save it for Drudge and Fox News and let the rest of us try to have a reasoned and adult conversation about sentencing and corrections, huh?

Posted by: Ryan | Jan 27, 2010 4:27:04 PM

What "deference," exactly, do criminals from Mexico get here? In my experience in California courts, they are treated either the same or harsher than US citizens.

Good luck with that idea about seizing Mexican property in the US. You know that the first thing Mexico would do is turn around and seize US property in Mexico, and you can imagine how well that would go over.

Posted by: arx | Jan 27, 2010 4:43:16 PM

As I predicted: What’s wrong with Economics?

Posted by: CrisisMaven | Jan 27, 2010 4:50:59 PM

Ryan, could you post some data that purports to show that immigration reduces or causes a "downward effect" on crime?

Or, could you point us in the right direction as to where one might find such data?

Ferris, could you do the same with respect to how Mexicans have burdened our system?

Posted by: C. Fox | Jan 27, 2010 6:54:28 PM

Ryan, powerful refutation of "unsubstantiated" claims with... er... unsubstantiated claims. And a powerful argument against broad generalizations by the use of ... broad (and sophmoric) generalizations.

C. Fox, as I am whistling down a Florida highway in a towncar right now, you'll have to wait until I get to a computer tomorrow for a lot of specifics, and there are a lot of them, but you might want to Google for the 2005 GAO report on this issue. I recall clearly that the figure, at the federal level alone, is something on the order of $1 billion a year to house illegals in our federal prisons. Also, I do know that the non-citizen % sentenced per year is nearly 30%. A quick calculation, based on the fact that illegals make up about 3% of the population at large (11 million out of 300 odd million), shows that the illegal population is 10 times more burdensome than the population at large with regard to federal prison resources. When I am armed with more than a cranky blackberry I'll have more news Ryan can comfortably ignore whilst he mumbles "Fox" an "Drudge" and guffaws to himself.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Jan 27, 2010 7:25:02 PM

@Ferris Bueller: It seems like a red herring to claim that, because "illegals" are a large percentage of the federal prison population, they're therefore "more burdensome" than the rest of the population on federal prison resources. In many jurisdictions, illegal reentry is one of the most commonly prosecuted federal crimes. So, I'd be more willing to credit your stats if you broke out the inmates who are serving time for a crime other than just the crime of "being illegal" -- sure, the illegal reentry folks may be eating up taxpayer dollars, but not because they've necessarily committed a crime with a victim, just because we've decided to respond to the immigration problem via incarceration.

Posted by: law student | Jan 28, 2010 4:25:08 AM

I don't know if Ferris is a property owner. Much of its value increase came from increases in population. So the government spent a $billion housing people. That is dwarfed from enhanced real estate prices, taxes, and the lifestyle spending they permit. Draconian enforcement reducing the number of immigrants would impoverish the property owner of the US. It is leadership to navigate the number allowed, so as to enhance our lifestyle, but not so great as to make this a third world armpit country because there are too many tropical people. This is a cultural, not racial effect.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 28, 2010 7:01:04 AM

To law student. I am not weighing in on either side of the discussion between you and Ferris Bueller however as a former federal prosecutor in a border district and as a current state prosecutor in California having spoken with Federal prosecutors about their charging policies I can say without reservation that as a resource allocation mechanism the Feds are only prosecuting 8 USC 1326s against those who have criminal records while in the US. When I was with the feds the US crimes had to meet a specific threshold (misdemeanors, except certain sex crimes, did not count). The only persons prosecuted that did not have a criminal record here in the US were those who had been caught 10+ times trying to enter the US (very few of these were filed). In other words, the vast majority of those who are serving federal prison time are serving it for their federal crime, but they have other criminal conduct. In my experience it typically was narcotics trafficking.

Posted by: David | Jan 28, 2010 9:59:40 AM

"These people are not rehabilitated, and yet we're going to open the door and let them out?" said Harriet Salerno, president of the group Crime Victims, speaking at a Capitol news conference that was also attended by representatives of Los Angeles police officers and Los Angeles County sheriffs' deputies.

It is actually Crime Victims United and they are the prison guard union's group.

SULLIVAN: Lance Corcoran is spokesman for the union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

CORCORAN: The notion that we are some prison industrial complex, or that we're recruiting felons or trying to change laws is a misnomer.

SULLIVAN: Campaign records, however, show much of the funding to promote and push for the passage of the laws came from a political action committee the union created. It's run out of a group called Crime Victims United of California. Its director, Harriet Salerno, says they are independent from the union but a review of the PAC's financial records show the PAC has not received a donation from another group besides the union since 2004. The union's Lance Corcoran:

CORCORAN: We continue to support a number of victims' rights groups.

SULLIVAN: Why is the correctional officers union involved in victims' rights at all?

CORCORAN: There are people that think that there's some sort of ulterior motive. But the reality is, is we simply want to make sure that their voices are heard. And so we support them with everything that we can.

SULLIVAN: But Corcoran acknowledges the union has benefited from the increase in the prison population after these laws passed

Posted by: George | Jan 28, 2010 12:57:51 PM

Law Student, The GAO's finding of $1 billion in costs per year is no red herring. As the saying goes: a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money.

David already answered your real question about just who these defendants are. The people being charged for felony reentry violations (2L1.2) do make up about 40% of all non-citizen defendants (in 2008), but they necessarily have been charged before (hence, "Re"entry), and many of them have prior crimes of violence (little things like rape and murder), drug trafficking, or aggravated felony convictions. In fact over 70% of reentry defendants have a criminal history category of III or above (see the USSC's 2008 Sourcebook, table 49), meaning they have an extensive criminal history within the last 15 years. While programs like "Operation Streamline" (you can Google it) do bring in a lot of the poor souls you seem to be talking about - and end up in misdemeanor pleas for time served in ICE custody, the people who are charged with reentry (a felony) and thus placed in costly federal custody are repeat criminal offenders 100% of the time and have an extensive record in the vast majority of cases. They aren't just fording the Rio Bravo to see 'Ma.

I commend you for questioning things as a law student. Far too many students just blindly absorb what their profs have to say about things like "poor illegals just crossing the border" without examining the easily available facts from places like the USSC.gov website.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Jan 28, 2010 2:33:46 PM

Ferris -

Still interested in how criminals from Mexico get "deference" in US courts, if you have a chance to explain.

Posted by: arx | Jan 28, 2010 4:46:30 PM

arx: It is common in many boarder states for illegals to get very short sentences compared to other offenders simply based on the (pragmatic) reason that they ought not to be a burden on the state since they are (presumably) going to be sent right back. This is common in Texas, particularly in drug trafficking cases, and is why, BTW, if you read the language of Amendment 722 (Page 301-3 in the West version of the '08 GL's) of 2L1.2 back a year ago, the Commission added departure language when the GL sentence did not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offender's prior conduct since, for example, he or she didn't get CHC points because the sentence was under one year and one month but was clearly so because the jurisdiction expected removal. The Commission stated it did this in response to "input" from judges and if you defend these cases you should know that some AUSA's ask for upward departures now for this very reason - that the prior was a serious offense that got an non-sentence do to the offender's status as an illegal. I.e. "deference".

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Jan 28, 2010 5:33:59 PM

Ferris -

Fair enough. I can't speak to Texas or to federal cases, having no experience in either, but I can assure you that in California, convicted defendants from other countries are getting no breaks on their sentences whatsoever. In fact, I've had judges explicitly say they were imposing prison time rather than probation because as soon as the defendant would be released on probation, they'd be deported, and therefore evade probation altogether. That's pretty much the opposite of "deference."

Posted by: arx | Jan 28, 2010 6:27:33 PM

Re: the downward effect of immigration on crime -- hardly unsubstantiated.


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