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May 25, 2009

Fascinating fights over how to pass the prison buck in California

Money This interesting and effective article from the Los Angeles Times brings to mind the famous phrase "follow the money," along with "it's the prison economy, stupid" and maybe also "the buck does not stop here." 

The LA Times article is headlined "Bid to divert California prisoners to county jails denounced: Local officials say they don't have the room or the funding to house the low-level felons that the governor wants to send them."  It highlights how different divisions of government in California are fighting over who will pay for the state's reliance on locking up so many persons to deal with crime and administer punishments.  Here are a few excerpts from this interesting piece:

Local officials have vowed to fight a proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to shave $1 billion from the state budget by shifting 23,000 state prisoners to overcrowded local jails during the next three years.  "This presents a serious danger to public safety," said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. "We are putting in jeopardy gains that have resulted in crime plunging in L.A. to its lowest level in 50 years."

The state's 33 prisons house about 155,000 inmates and are under a federal court order to relieve overcrowding. If state officials do not address the problem soon, a panel of three federal judges could set a cap on new prisoners and order thousands released.  "We are having to look at all options to reduce our population and avoid a cap or an inmate release order," said Seth Unger, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  "We have in many ways cut to the bone."

The governor wants to slow the stream of offenders being sent to prison by changing state sentencing guidelines so those who commit low-level felonies such as fraud or grand theft, known as "wobblers," would be prosecuted for misdemeanors and sentenced to jail instead.

Facing a possible $24-billion state budget deficit, the governor's office estimates that changing the sentencing laws could save $99.9 million in the next fiscal year, $360 million the following year and $566 million the third year, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance. "The goal is to have flexibility in the sentencing but to keep the hardest offenders behind bars," Palmer said.

Before the proposal could take effect, state legislators would have to approve sweeping changes to the penal code, which some local officials hope is unlikely given the current gridlock in Sacramento. Lawmakers have, however, agreed to stem the flow of inmates to state prisons in recent years by prohibiting any legislation that would convert misdemeanor crimes into felonies. ...

Local officials said much of the cost saved by the state would be passed on to them. "It's another example of the state taking their problems and pushing it down to the local level even though all of us have equal economic problems," said William T Fujioka, Los Angeles County's chief executive.

The governor's plan would force counties to house the equivalent of the populations of four state prisons, including about 12,000 drug offenders. Los Angeles County has about 19,000 inmates in its seven jails and is among 20 California counties that face court orders to relieve jail overcrowding....

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca met with state Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate last week to discuss the governor's proposal, which Baca said would force him to release inmates early to make room for the influx. Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Robert Taylor said the plan, which he called unrealistic, would also strain the county's underfunded system for supervising probationers.

Civil rights advocates who have pushed to improve conditions at local jails said the proposal would worsen inmates' plight.  "Local jail overcrowding is already an unconstitutional epidemic in California," said Melinda Bird, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California....

Don Meyer, probation chief in Yolo County and president of the statewide council, said that for smaller counties, the governor's proposal amounts to an untenable budget cut.  Yolo County is considering closing one of its two jails, Meyer said, and won't have anywhere to put state prisoners.

The governor also proposed several other cost-cutting measures for state prisons last week after statewide ballot measures failed and the budget gap widened.  Those include transferring 19,000 illegal immigrants to federal custody and releasing 26,000 nonviolent offenders 20 months early.

May 25, 2009 at 04:23 PM | Permalink


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To avoid repetition, I am just going say, 123D, from here. It will mean One-Two-Three-Dead.

Beyond that, this item brings up a research question.

When people claim that a worsening economy results in higher crime rates, is the mechanism, the release of prisoners to save tax payers money?

That would be a simple mechanism that rebuts the left wing ideologues advocating greater redistribution of income, and bashing the productive.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 25, 2009 4:39:41 PM

Is the proposal to do away with wobblers? If so, wouldn't most of them be done with time served since misdemeanors only carry a year max? Anyone know? Or is the plan to force the counties to house the wobbler felons for 16 months, 2 or 3 years?

If the legislature did away with wobblers as study after study suggested, like the Hoover Commission recommended over and over, then there wouldn't be an influx. Or is the plan only to eliminate wobbers from now on but without it being retroactive?

Posted by: George | May 25, 2009 6:27:14 PM

Now S.Clause promotes 123D for misdemeanors.

Posted by: George | May 25, 2009 6:39:22 PM

George: 123D applies to violent offenses with injury. The $6 million rule applies to wobbling. With 123D, there would be no violent offenders. The wobblers could have room with amenities like at the Ritz.

The only losers? Rent seeking lawyers.

They would be recycled as the best high school history teachers. They could explain the outrages of Marbury v Madison as no high school teacher can do now. These former lawyers would be earning more, worth more to society, doing good, not evil, and enjoy their summers off, with great pensions awaiting their retirement filled with world travel. Their advocacy skills would make for compelling classroom dramatics and fireworks, getting standing ovations from the students at the end of every class, instead of victims and heartbroken survivors making justified death threats.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 25, 2009 7:27:38 PM

Why don't you tell us again about how you filed and lost your pro se appeal? Have to no shame?

Posted by: S.cotus | May 25, 2009 8:36:29 PM

"...recent years by prohibiting any legislation that would convert misdemeanor crimes into felonies."

And isn't that the real heart of the problem. It's not the jail or the prisons, it's not the lawyers and their "cult", it the sheer number of laws that we have that turn what should be boo-boos into open-heart surgery.

Lawyers make cases, that's their job. But when the legislature lets lawyers make a federal case (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) out of most anything I don't see how that the problem of the legal system; it's a failure of the political system.

Posted by: Daniel | May 25, 2009 8:59:19 PM

Doug, on a serious note, I have wondered for years, ever since listening to the argument in Ewing v California, how "wobblers" can survive separation of powers muster? Under California's Three Strike Law, as I understand it, a judge can decide if a "wobbler" counts for a prior felony strike or not. That makes no sense. Only the legislature, in my opinion, can decide if a crime is a misdemeanor or a felony. The judicial branch, or the executive branch for that matter, have no power to determine whether a crime is a misdemeanor or a felony. Bruce

Posted by: bruce cunningham | May 25, 2009 9:03:00 PM

Scotus: I never did that. That is a fantasy you have about me. Tell us why you are so obsessed. This thing is consuming you. I have that effect on people, mostly female.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 25, 2009 9:08:43 PM

Let all the Marijuana offenders out of jail.

Posted by: Anon | May 25, 2009 9:19:22 PM

here you assholes: i just got out of soledad where i taught "horticulture" skills 2 illegal inmates so they can go back to grow & refine cannabis 2 send 2 U.S. fuck you fuck usa .....

Posted by: jcat | Jul 22, 2009 8:40:17 PM

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