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February 28, 2012

Is California's prison population reduction going as well as it seems?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "California prisons clearing out."  Here are excerpts:

Images of California's overcrowded prisons are so striking that the U.S. Supreme Court included two photographs of the problem in last year's landmark opinion that forced the state to address the issue.

On Friday, state corrections leaders will announce they have made an important step toward their goal to ease overcrowding, finally getting rid of the last of thousands of bunks that were crammed into day rooms, gymnasiums and other spaces to hold inmates.

In a news conference scheduled to be held at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, corrections chief Matthew Cate and other officials are scheduled to announce the end of what the department itself calls "iconic images of (the) overcrowding crisis."...

The use of what the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation calls "nontraditional beds" peaked at just under 20,000 in 2007, Callison said.  Their use stemmed from the prison system at one point holding twice as many inmates as the 80,000 it was designed to house.  "The degree of overcrowding in California's prisons is exceptional ..." the Supreme Court concluded in its May 2011 opinion, which described in graphic detail how officials found room to house them....

Following the court's order that the state reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates to bring it to 137.5 percent of capacity, state officials went to work.  Gov. Jerry Brown's "realignment" plan, which shifts responsibility for some offenders considered low-level, nonviolent and nonserious to county jails, has since helped cut the prison population from about 144,000 inmates to about 127,770.

"The number of nontraditional beds had been falling since '07, but realignment has basically taken us over the finish line," Callison said.  The department hopes to reduce overall population to 137.5 percent of capacity -- about 110,000 inmates -- by June 2013.

It is surely way too early to reach a final judgment (or even a mid-stream judgment) about whether the Plata prison overcrowding litigation and California's prison-population-reduction responses has proven to be a great public policy success.  But I continue to see in the California papers positive stories like the one reported here, while I am yet to see many stories reflecting the parade of horribles sometimes described by those who opposed the various prison reduction orders during the Plata litigation. Thus the question in the title of this post.

February 28, 2012 at 10:40 AM | Permalink


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Is it really a "reduction" when inmates are just shifted from state prisons to county jails? Isn't that what "realignment" is?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 28, 2012 11:42:57 AM

"Is it really a 'reduction' when inmates are just shifted from state prisons to county jails? Isn't that what 'realignment' is?"

No, that is the deception. The county jails are already full, so a shift results in people being released who shouldn't be.

On the point of the original post, I would not infer a lack of failures from a lack of prominent press coverage. There are stories about crimes committed by people who should have been locked up. We note them occasionally at C&C, e.g. here.

People will increasingly notice as time goes on.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 28, 2012 1:13:10 PM

The original parade of horribles (the vast crime increase from the late sixties to the late eighties) took years fully to show itself. The parade of wonderfuls (the vast crime decrease over the last 20+ years) also took years to show itself.

It's not like we don't know what happens when we fall for the "counseling and rehabilitation" baloney. We know full well, because we've seen it before, and paid the price before. We'll see it this time too, but, like the other parades, it will take years before it begins to surface.

It's not just the budget crunch that accounts for prison cutbacks. It's the oldest thing in human life: Complacency. People can delude themselves all they care to that the massive crime decrease came about because we all sat around and sang, "Give Peace a Chance." In fact it came about because we got serious and did several things to protect ourselves. Incarceration was one of the things we did, and it worked.

Those who forget history............

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 28, 2012 5:24:16 PM

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat the 4th Reich. They already took away our guns, or more importantly, they know where the legal ones are, just like Britain.

Don't expect LE to protect you.

Posted by: albeed | Feb 28, 2012 10:37:37 PM

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