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July 25, 2006

Great commentary on California's prison problems

Professors Joan Petersilia and Robert Weisberg this past weekend had this great commentary discussing how California should respond to its prison overcrowding problems.  Here is a taste:

Virginia and North Carolina have proved exemplary in recent years in creating sentencing commissions, composed of representatives of the different parts of state government and criminological experts, to devise more rational sentencing and parole guidelines, tempered by budgetary realism. They have done so while enjoying at least as great a crime rate drop as the rest of the United States in the past decade. These states have succeeded because somehow their politicians have found a way to avoid the nuclear-arms-race-like ratcheting up of sentences to appear tough on crime to the voters. But the officials in these states also have managed to make the economics of criminal justice part of the civic discourse among officials, the media and voters.

None of this is happening in California. After a promising start two years ago, the governor, weakening under incessant attack from the Legislature and the prison guards' union, seems to have lost the will to subject the corrections system to rational policy analysis. And the response to his new proposal from his new Democratic rival, Phil Angelides, has been loud but amounts to vacuous hot air. It's now a cliché that modern politicians are terrified of appearing soft on crime. But we've reached the point where politicians are too bizarrely worried about the soft-on-crime label even to suggest that some reform in the corrections system -- or even rational analysis of it -- is necessary. Apparently they fear that any suggestion that some criminals might be imprisoned unnecessarily or for too long risks political attack, even when the suggestion is part of a plan to increase the sentences for the truly dangerous inmates who threaten public safety.

So as we approach this special session, the public should demand that in the area of criminal justice and corrections, "rational policymaking in California" must cease to be an oxymoron.

Some related posts on California's prison woes:

July 25, 2006 at 01:14 PM | Permalink


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