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August 13, 2009

"Gulags in the sun"

The title of this post is the headline given to this notable piece in The Economist discussing California's prison problems.  Here are snippets:

The overcrowding in California’s prisons, by far the worst in the country with only Georgia and Alabama coming close, has been the subject of lawsuits for years.  The latest riot came just days after three federal judges, calling conditions “appalling,” ordered California to prepare, within 45 days, a plan to bring its prison population down to 137% of capacity in order to approach constitutional standards of decency.  Jerry Brown, California’s attorney-general as well as a former governor and likely candidate for governor, has vowed to fight the order....

California has passed around a thousand laws mandating tougher sentencing.  Many have gone through the legislature, where politicians of both parties compete to be “toughest on crime”. Others have come directly from voters, who often bring a “crime-of-the-week mentality” to the ballot box, says Barry Krisberg, the president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a think-tank in Oakland.

The result is a disaster, says Ms Petersilia.  California spends $49,000 a year on each prisoner, almost twice the national average.  But it still has the country’s worst rate of recidivism, with 70% of people who leave prison ending up back in it, compared with 40% in America as a whole.

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August 13, 2009 at 01:59 PM | Permalink


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These statistics show that only the hardest core criminals are being incarcerated in California. They require more staffing, and more expense per capita. When they leave, they recidivate almost twice as often as the criminals of other states. Even hippy dippy, happy moonbeam lawyer Jerry Brown grasps the implications, and is actually trying to perform his duty to protect the public.

All prematurely released prisoners should be placed in halfway houses surrounding the homes of any judge ruling in their favor. Seize the neighboring properties under Kelo, and fill them with the prematurely released.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 13, 2009 5:35:35 PM

All we get from this blog is left wing bias, devoid of any empirical validation. That is the definition of hate speech. We love the criminal here, hate the crime victim. Why? Because these judges owe their jobs to the criminal and the victim does nothing for them.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 13, 2009 6:01:25 PM

"The result is a disaster, says Ms Petersilia." Dr. Petersilia is not a lawyer, but a sociologist at Stanford Law School. She advises the current Governor.

She implies that Cali prisons cause the higher recidivism rate. This is an extraordinary statement. Release a prisoner, and his past Cali prison influences him to commit more crimes than other prisons in the US. Shouldn't such an extraordinary claim require proof? And how would poor conditions in a prison increase the chance of committing more crime months or years later?

Is there an equal possibility that only the worst, busiest, and punishment resistant of the criminals are being sent to Cali prison, and that the severity of their antisocial personality disorder causes them to commit more crimes, despite their bad experiences in Cali prison?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 14, 2009 6:56:34 AM

Dr. Petersilia replies to the above. This is rational and reassuring.

I NEVER made the statement that CA prisons were the worst in the world -- of course, they are not, given conditions in many other countries. And I have visited prisons in Russia and China so know that California prisons, by comparison, are much better. My statement was regarding rehabilitation PROGRAMMING, noting that California's programs (e.g., substance abuse, work) used to be models for the nation, and were often exported worldwide (e.g., Therapeutic Communities). In recent years, those programs have dwindled and now our "model" rehabilitation programs are a skeleton of what they were historically. THAT was the discussion I had with this reporter -- NOT related to overall conditions of confinement in California prisons. If we were talking about that issue, rather than specifically rehabilitation programming, U.S. prisons would fare well compared to many other nations, and California prisons might even fare well when compared to some U.S. prisons. I am sorry that these views were not discussed fully in this short article. I hope this clarification helps.

Joan Petersilia

P.S. Yes, high recidivism rates are caused not only by the conditions in prison and prison policies, but also by the underlying criminality posed by the offenders. I have written about this repeatedly in my articles, most recently in a lengthy article entitled, "California's Correctional Paradox of Excess and Deprivation," Crime and Justice, University of Chicago (2007).

I would greatly appreciate it. In the interest of informed dialogue, I try and make myself available to credible journalists. Unfortunately, sometimes the brevity of the articles they write leaves all of the important nuances out and makes one look like an idiot!

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 14, 2009 10:25:58 AM

I did not involve the doctor in the problems of the lawyer, out of courtesy. She advises the Governor, and it is reassuring that she is knowledgeable, logical, and sane. But she brings up something that makes the lawyer look good.

The lawyer will readily admit, I am an advocate. And we know that he will present only evidence supporting his case. He has some duty to inform the judge in a brief or motion of any adverse case law, but that is about it.

The journalist has a code of ethics.


There is no license, obviously, nor any mechanism of enforcement. Again, the press is immunized by the First Amendment, and now feels unrestrained glee and is going all out to support Barack Obama.

The aspiration is to present all facts, and not just those supporting one side. The journalists of our nation are nearly all political hacks spouting Democrat talking points. Most articles are propaganda pieces, not in the sense of lying, but in the sense of selective picking of facts to present and none that rebut the Democrat talking point.

When someone uses the term Gulag to refer to a Cali prison, it is highly offensive and disrespectful of the suffering of the those who were in the Gulag. The Commies killed 100 million people, and tormented 100's of millions more.

There are two types of people who need remediation more than the lawyer, the convicted felon and the journalist.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 14, 2009 12:39:42 PM

No state can afford $49,000.00 per inmate per year.

Posted by: mpb | Aug 14, 2009 11:50:53 PM

How much is it worth to prevent 100 violent crimes a year? $50K seems like a huge bargain.

Also remember 123D.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 15, 2009 8:52:16 AM

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