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August 1, 2009

Defending the prison cuts in the new California budget

Writing in the Sacremento Bee, Michael Vitiello has this new commentary, headlined "Prison budget cuts, done well, do no harm," praising the prison reforms in California's recently hammered out budget.  Here is how the commentary starts:

Watching California's recent budget negotiations could make grown-ups cry.  But one potentially healthy development is the proposal to reduce the prison budget by $1.2 billion.

Many scholars and nonpartisan observers have argued for several years that California's prison budget is bloated and that sensible policies could reduce expenditures without sacrificing public safety. Not everyone agrees. For example, when Republican Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee learned that the Democrats and the governor backed early prisoner release and creation of a sentencing commission, he accused the Democrats of "concocting a radioactive corrections bill that includes the worst of the worst – a sentencing commission and release of 27,000 prisoners." According to Blakeslee, "such policies would endanger the public and (are) unacceptable."

Attacks such as these may explain why many legislators have feared being accused of being soft on crime. Dating back at least to the Willie Horton ads during the 1988 presidential election, politicians have feared the "soft on crime" label. No matter how sensible a proposal, legislators wonder what will happen to their careers if a prisoner released on their watch commits a well-publicized crime.

So what are the realities about early prisoner release programs and sentencing commissions? While neither is a panacea, both offer realistic chances of reducing prison costs while maintaining public safety.

When Californians read about high recidivism rates for paroled prisoners, we can be forgiven for fearing early release programs. Our recidivism rates far exceed the national average. Elsewhere, prison and parole officials have developed far better systematic intervention programs, including better prisoner re-entry programs, which reduce recidivism rates. California is in an excellent position to benefit from similar programs.

California has an aging prison population, expensive to maintain and unlikely to re-offend upon release. Around the nation, far less "progressive" states have adopted early release programs for older prisoners based on a variety of actuarial factors and have avoided recidivism entirely in that population.

That is not surprising given a number of facts: Violent crime is a young man's game; by the time an offender reaches 30 years old, his violent conduct is on the decline. While that is not true for all offenders, data collection – like everywhere else in the computer age – has improved measurement of risk and protective factors, allowing accurate predictions about the probability of recidivism. Thus, a well-thought-out early release program could protect the public, while reducing prison costs.

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August 1, 2009 at 11:18 AM | Permalink


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If all the released were over 60, they would save a lot on health care. And, released would still be committing a lot of crimes, but at the slowest pace of any other age group.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 1, 2009 12:13:29 PM

Geez, a young woman just was murdered by a parolee. You'd think people would get it. But the "be nice to criminals" crowd always likes to sacrifice the innocent.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 1, 2009 3:29:09 PM

The estate of this foreseeable victim should sue all the lawyers that loosed this vicious predator, including any careless, heartless judge. Go after their personal assets. To deter the vile criminal lover rent seeker.

In another time, the family of the victim would have hunted down this low life and tortured it and its criminal lover running dogs to death. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 1, 2009 10:54:56 PM

"Violent crime is a young man's game; by the time an offender reaches 30 years old, his violent conduct is on the decline."
So because you may not commit another murder or violent crime, then it is okay to be put back on the street no matter how horendous the orignal crime was.
Age of the criminal is not relevant to how long a person should spend in prison. THe two primary concerns is 1. THe nature of the crime that was commited, and 2 the criminal itself.

AS a general rule, murders and violent offenders should never be realises early. They should be made to server their full sentence. A lot of innocent people have been killed because criminals are put back on the streets early.

Posted by: Jim | Aug 2, 2009 8:43:47 AM

Jim: There is no specialization in crime. The shoplifter could be a rapist. The burglar could be a serial killer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 2, 2009 9:12:18 AM

The young woman who was recently killed by a parolee was a tragedy. But her death could have been caused by someone who was not on parole just as easily. It is a tragic crime that happens all too often.

To deny some of the inmates early release because of one tragic death would not be prudent. Some of those that are being looked at for early release are disabled or over 60. They are the ones that are least likely to commit another crime.

The overcrowding in prisons is CAUSING a lot of rage in the inmates and almost ALL counseling has been cut back if not eliminated. Drug and alcohol counseling have been cut the most. Without this counseling, due to budget cuts, prisons are daily paroling inmates that have no coping skills.

The prison industry in California needs to be completely reorganized to get alcohol and drug abusers the help they need instead of recycling them through the system with no rehabilitation.

Almost 90% of the prison population are drop outs, yet recent budget cuts are cutting education the hardest - which might be the way to reduce the number of people going to prison to begin with.

Posted by: Madhatter | Aug 2, 2009 12:13:39 PM

Change the laws,reform 3 strikes, we need prison reform. The general public is starting to see where all there taxes are going. The reforms are well though out and would help to close the budget and then maybe we could get back to educating are young instead of throwing them in a cage and tossing the key. For those of you who believe that the prisoners get better health care than you, do a little research, prisoners are dying due to lack of health care. Inmates pay for there health care, maybe not a lot but they do pay. The food they get is the worst. It is not eatable, most of you would not feed your dogs the food they are served. There is no free ride in prison, there families pay for whatever they get and those who have no family well they go without. For those of you who say who cares they did the crime now they must pay. Be careful, passing judgment has a way of coming back and biting you.
By the grace of GOD I pray that none of those who see prison as a solution to our problem ever have to live in or visit a loved one in prison because that will open your eyes very wide, you will not believe what you learn but then you have to because you are now living in the land of the CDC. Tough on crime has taken money out of our children eduction and their health care. Prison's should be for the worst of the worst not the ones who could get the help they need at a local level.

Posted by: Get a clue | Aug 2, 2009 12:31:19 PM

If you take a set of snapshots of prisons and jails it is possible to determine how long it takes for half of the prisoners present on the first date to be released. A typical halving time for jails is about three weeks and for Iowa prisons it is 18 months. I do not know if the Iowa halving time is representative of other prison systems.

The most cost effective ways to reduce the size of a prison population is to use prison alternatives to reduce the number of new court commitments and recidivism prevention measures to reduce the number of parole/probation revocations. If you just release prisoners without recidivism prevention measures they will return very quickly and there is a chance they can cause serious problems before they return.

Posted by: John Neff | Aug 2, 2009 2:09:49 PM

You are all so out of touch. They keep telling you it's only the ones who would be released anyway due to their time coming to and end. I'm from another state and have a sister in that hell hole California who was convicted wrongly. She happened to meet someone there and didn't know they were up to no good. She was on the street looking for directions when a tragedy happened on the corner. They all said she was a friend of this monster {a native of Hell Hole California} she is there serving time for no reason and who has been ripped from her young son thanks to Hell Hole California. She should have been released and sent home a long time ago. She is a nurse and has a degree. YES I want to see her released and out of the HELL HOLE and back home in the midwest where she belongs. She went to HHC to get her Nursing Degree and had it a short time when this happened. I never heard so many horror stories as I've heard coming out of Hell Hole California. I think this state deserves the hell they get because that Governor is only and Actor and needs to go back to what he knows. What a HUGE mess you are in and sooo glad I don't live there. You will all have to fall hard and start over. M'be then you will see it's not all about money....and people aren't cattle no matter who you are....God Be With You

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