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August 31, 2009

Dueling persectives on proposed California prison reforms and a new challenge

As highlighted in the links below, the California editorial pages are buzzing over the state's on-going debate over prison and sentencing reforms.  And, as these two pieces reveal, California lawmakers will be criticized no matter what they do (or don't do):

Relatedly, this new piece in the New York Times, headlined "California Officials Fear Abduction Case May Hurt Efforts on Parole," highlights how a single high-profile case may alter the on-going debate.  Here is how the piece begins:

The case of Phillip Garrido, a parolee and registered sex offender accused of abducting an 11-year-old girl and holding her hostage for 18 years, has become embroiled in the debate over legislation intended to reduce California’s inmate population.

I sure hope a whole bunch of folks end up writing lots of articles and books about this chapter in state sentencing reform, since it captures so many of the dynamic modern challenges of sentencing law, policy, politics and practice.

August 31, 2009 at 09:29 AM | Permalink


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This is reminiscent of the Kampusch case.

Three years on, Kampusch faces questions over lone kidnapper

Kampusch's story made headlines around the world after she re-emerged on August 23, 2006, eight years after being kidnapped on her way to school in the Austrian capital Vienna at age 10.

In an interview with Germany's NDR radio broadcast on Thursday, Kampusch said she still did not feel free, three years after her escape.

"I have to constantly defend myself and constantly justify the way I am, and that takes a lot of energy. Nobody lets me be me," she said.

"There are a lot of people who try to collect me as a kind of trophy," she added.

A lot of those lot of people are news reporters, special interest groups and politicians. The irony is that if sentencing reform was on trial, the Garrido case would be excluded as irrelevant evidence.

Posted by: George | Aug 31, 2009 11:37:45 AM

Like the Polly Klaas case, I'm sure this horrific case will be wrangled by politicians into an argument for a more crudely punitive system and against reform. But this case could just as easily be an argument FOR reforming California's broken system. This was a terrible failure of supervised parole (as an earlier post noted). But California has such a bloated and overinclusive parole system -- ALL prisoners are automatically on parole for 3 years upon release, can be sent back to prison for minor parole violations, etc. -- that it's not surprising if parole officers can't keep track of the actual, dangerous parolees. I'd imagine they're too busy with paperwork and high caseloads. Of course, I am sure that this is not the way that the general public will perceive the issue, and I am not advocating for demagogue-like exploitation of this horrific tragedy in either direction, but I would hope that there might at least be some sensible discussion of what the case really suggests about the limits and weaknesses of California's current system.

Posted by: lawstudent | Aug 31, 2009 12:27:43 PM

Lawstudent, why don't you pose your questions to the family of Lily Burk? She was recently kidnapped and murdered in downtown Los Angeles by a parolee who should have been remanded into cusotdy for the "technical violation" of failing to report to his parole officer.

Keep in mind, what some term "techinal violations," others view as a continuing and voluntary unwillingness to follow the rules of ordered society. Do you want that person to live next to you? If not, then why compel law-abiding citizens to do so in the name of some grand social experiment?

Posted by: Large County Prosecutor | Aug 31, 2009 5:23:41 PM

It is arguments like this that beg for a Grits for Breakfast in California. The Lily Burk case is another tragic one that really hurts, as it should, but it is also irrelevant to the prison reform bill. 1) That parolee was paroled under the old system and therefore under the status quo and so without change he would have been paroled. 2) Nothing in the reform bill passed by the Senate would have given that parolee an early release or any other break because he had prior violent convictions that were not only violent, they were serious/violent under Three Strikes. This is the first I've heard of a failing to report violation, but even if true, it is irrelevant to the reform bill.

Posted by: George | Aug 31, 2009 8:52:29 PM

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