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April 5, 2010

"there is no such thing as a nonviolent crime"

This title of this post is a line from this remarkable op-ed from a "senior supervising psychologist" at a California prison. The op-ed is headlined "State plays dangerous game when it considers the early release of inmates," and it highlights some of the arguments and rhetoric that makes cutting prison populations so challenging. Here are excerpts:

After spending 20 years in corrections as a psychologist, I am astonished that anyone -- much less the governor -- could define any class of felons as nonviolent.  The current plan to release thousands of California inmates with no or shortened parole is fatuous, if not disingenuous.  It is a complete fiction to believe that any convicted felon upon release is safe for community re-entry without serious strengthened parole supervision and community-based rehabilitation.

The re-offense numbers are striking and troublesome.  According to up-to-date reports readily available through the state corrections department, 57.44 percent of all paroled felons are returned to prison within three years for parole violations or for a new offense.  And those are just the ones who have been caught.

Moreover, there is no such thing as a nonviolent crime.  Virtually every blue-collar crime is committed by someone willing to do some kind of violence if in the doing of the crime they are discovered....

Do some inmates leave prison and lead exemplary lives? Of course.  But the last thorough study revealed that out of 10,000 paroled criminals followed over many years, fewer than a dozen -- yes, a dozen -- of those multiple thousands truly turned themselves around.  The rest faced post-release lives skirting the law and flirting with re-arrest by continuing their crime....

Not a pretty picture, especially when we are facing personnel reductions in police and sheriff's departments, locally and throughout the state.  More felons on the street, fewer of society's "protectors" in the field.  Not hard to see where that might lead.

The only credible solution if these felons are to be released is to redirect a serious portion of money saved through the release program to parole programs throughout the state to greatly reduce the number of parolees on an agent's caseload -- as has now wisely been done -- to 40 or fewer, so that supervision is close, frequent and regular.  And these parolees need to be in rehab programs and forced to wear GPS devises so that at any time they can be located for random checks.  Anything short of that, we're courting disaster.

I am a bit surprised to see a prison psychologist making such an aggressive argument against the notion that some crimes are nonviolent and for the idea that all felon pose a significant risk to the community upon release.  Nevertheless, this op-ed provide a great example of the kind of fear-mongering that can make it so very hard for states to keep moving forward with plans to reduce prison populations.

April 5, 2010 at 07:50 AM | Permalink


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The most glaring errors--that all crimes are violent, and that all felons are dangerous upon release--are ones you've already pointed out. But it's the reasoning of the second point that really caught my eye.

"fewer than a dozen -- yes, a dozen -- of those multiple thousands truly turned themselves around. The rest faced post-release lives skirting the law and flirting with re-arrest by continuing their crime.... "

I'm left wondering what "truly turned themselves around", "skirting the law", and (my favorite) "flirting with re-arrest" are supposed to mean. The ambiguity gives the author an awfully big net to catch released felons with.

Posted by: BC | Apr 5, 2010 8:08:39 AM

"[F]earmongering"? Surely you jest.

You know what you can always count on with most academic types--a disdain for democracy. It really is amazing. Doug, the people, who have demanded these "get tough" policies are a lot smarter than you think. Ya see, they've heard the "smarter on crime" stuff before, and what did it get us, a lot of societal misery with real innocent people suffering awful crimes. And so the people demand that, horrors, felons get stiff sentences.

Now, of course, we are told (with the annoying piety of a scold) that if you want to incarcerate people you have to pay. But a lot of that stems not from the democratic process, but the judiciary's warping of the Eighth Amendment is responsible for a lot of that. To take but one example, that the idea that the Eighth Amendment requires the state to pay for sex-change treatments is even entertained (and not tossed out with Rule 11 sanctions imposed) show just how far the judiciary has gone.

And to top it all off, the "savings" is probably illusory anyway. The incarceration of many of these felons prevents many crimes, which means that you don't have to prosecute etc. Also, crime diminishes productive economic activity etc.

I agree that a prison bed is a scarce resource and that states should be doing the kind of analyses that maximizes the societal benefit received from said resource. And maybe that means a wise regime of clemency etc. But releasing criminals onto the streets is a recipe for a lot of suffering by innocent people. People with common sense recognize this--it's unfortunate that academia doesn't.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 5, 2010 8:14:18 AM

The op-ed is based on inconvenient facts, and personal, intimate knowledge of the inmate. All non-violent criminals have been diverted elsewhere.

The release to save money is an irresponsible, crazy, treasonous betrayal, especially of poor neighborhoods. All prematurely released prisoners should be placed in the homes of lawyers and judges. Take the lawyer's neighbors' homes under Kelo, and open halfway houses. Why should poor people with dark skins always pay the cost of this dumping of toxic human beings?

As to a great solution that saves money, brings the cost of the criminal justice down to nil, and ends 99% of crime? Because the resulting jump in trust is economically efficient, the growth rate may pop up by a lot, as a side benefit. The money wasted on lawyers and criminal justice can go toward making us an all research and development society. The eradication of the internal enemy, and the defunding of the cult criminals would also boost up educational attainment. Disruptive delinquents should know their time is running out.

You already know it, but refuse to face reality.

123D. The deceased have a recidivism rate of zero. Their problem? They do not generate lawyer sinecures and fees.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 5, 2010 8:43:44 AM

Federalist writes: "the people, who have demanded these "get tough" policies are a lot smarter than you think."

Really? Then they (by whom, of course, you mean you) should be smart enough to tell California how to a) comply with federal court orders and b) reduce incarceration costs while c) releasing no one and toughening laws to make sentences longer. What's the answer, Mr. Smarter-Than-Thou? And I mean a real-world answer that's honestly viable, not the kind of jabbering totalitarian idiocy SC spews in seemingly every SL&P comment string. To keep the conversation on point, I'd suggest just one limitation to your answer: don't tell us "cut welfare, bust the teachers unions" etc.. CA corrections officials don't control those programs. Tell us what CORRECTIONS policies you would pursue to let CA live within its budget and real-world legal strictures, if you're so much smarter than the folks running the CA prison system and academics like Doug who study such matters full time.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 5, 2010 9:44:26 AM

Actually, Grits, I mean Californians--they are the ones who put a lot of these policies in place through their elected representatives or through ballot initiatives.

And now I am going to engage in what libs call nuance. I know it's going to be difficult for you since your reflexive view is to be nice to criminals and that tends to cloud judgment. (It's amazing how moral preening is like crack for liberals. They just can't get enough.)

First of all, what prompted my comment was Doug's "fear-mongering" observation. Ordinary citizens are clearly correct in their worries about releasing so-called "non-violent" felons, and they are certainly correct to be skeptical of any assurances by those making these decisions. Consequently, your response is pretty much besides the point. What I would do if I were dealing with constraints placed on corrections officials is not relevant.

Second, apparently you missed my point about what you term "real-world legal strictures". I don't necessarily think them "legal" in the sense of required by the Constitution.

The bottom line, Grits, is that people are right to be worried about the effects of releasing these criminals. Pointing to court decisions etc. does nothing to allay one's fears. People will pay the price for this in blood. That's not fear-mongering, that's reality.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 5, 2010 10:22:24 AM

This guy is so well-respected for his expertise on California penal issues that he publishes on the community voices page of the Bakersfield Californian.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 5, 2010 10:28:29 AM

interesting i take it this retard doesnt' incude sex offences in his nuimbers becasue way too many studies say he's full of sh..it!


Recidivismof SexOffenders
Released from Prison in 1994

Rearrest for a new sex crime
Compared to non-sex offenders
released from State prisons, released
sex offenders were 4 times more likely
to be rearrested for a sex crime.
Within the first 3 years following their
release from prison in 1994, 5.3% (517
of the 9,691) of released sex offenders
were rearrested for a sex crime. The
rate for the 262,420 released non-sex
offenders was lower, 1.3% (3,328 of

Rearrest for any type of crime
Compared to non-sex offenders
released from State prison, sex offenders
had a lower overall rearrest rate.
When rearrests for any type of crime
(not just sex crimes) were counted, the
study found that 43% (4,163 of 9,691)
of the 9,691 released sex offenders
were rearrested. The overall rearrest
rate for the 262,420 released non-sex
offenders was higher, 68% (179,391 of

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 5, 2010 11:34:47 AM

The number (and percentage of population) of inmates in the U.S. is very high in comparison to most countries. That always puzzles me. Is the U.S. creating criminals at such an astoundingly higher rate than the rest of the world? If so, why? Even by historical standards, I have read that the current percentage of our population in jail or prison is significantly higher than in the past.

I think the prison psychologist should address this matter. I am confident that the answer to the causation of the strikingly high rate of criminals in our midst is related to his problem of high violent recidivism rates.

As a side note, it would be helpful if the psychologist could expound on his ideas for the rehabilitation that he notes as part of the solution to the problem.

(I am an interested layman.)

Posted by: wishful | Apr 5, 2010 12:32:54 PM

Remarkable op-ed. I guess so.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 5, 2010 1:54:14 PM

How appropriate. Now one of our boot-lickers wants to distinguish "legal" from "constitutional." Anything to get an extra lick in on one of "those" people, heh?

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Apr 5, 2010 2:02:32 PM

Federalist, allow me to suggest that any argument that makes sweeping generalizations about "liberals" (or "conservatives") is a bunch of partisan bullshit that prevents any hope of actual intelligent discourse.

Posted by: Praga | Apr 5, 2010 2:53:42 PM

Consider where this op-ed was published. Bakersfield is about the most conservative place in California. His argument is simple minded, PhD or not. Risk is on a sliding scale, not an either-or proposition. The question is how much risk is acceptable, not whether the offender committed a felony.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Apr 5, 2010 2:53:45 PM

Praga, allow me to suggest that picking out a side dig (and a pretty accurate one at that--the insufferable moral preening of the soft on crime crowd is pretty obvious to any casual observer) to dismiss an argument is pretty weak. You don't like the casual asides, fine, but your thin skin doesn't make my argument BS.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 5, 2010 3:46:26 PM

Rod: When there are about 100 crime victimizations for every arrest, the re-arrest rate is a remote, muffled indicator of the true crime rate. It is also subject to inaccuracy when the police throws out report slips to make themselves look better.

As to Europe, I doubt the crime victimization rates are much lower than in the US. Crime victims are just thrown out of the police station to deter their pesky complaints.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 5, 2010 3:58:09 PM

Anon: The mainstream press will not allow a message like that of the psychologist to get through. They censor such people. So a Bakersfield news outlet is the place to get balance to the left wing agenda permissible in the press and in academia.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 5, 2010 4:02:31 PM

i agree SC that's why i've said for years we could end the quesiton covering almost all crimes in a matter of hours if not days. Shouldn't be too hard especialy with sex crimes since those have been tracked for decades ....put in the names of those put on the list in 1995 when the big ones started...fast forward to NOW! Then use one of the govt cray supercomputers to answer one question..

HOW MANY HAVE BEEN RECONVICTED OF A NEW crime....doesn't even have to be a SEX crime just A CRIME.!

there's your reoffence rate!

but of course the govt REFUESES to do it and in fact has setup a system to delibertly cover it up!

Since it would DESTROY 20 years of law.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 5, 2010 4:38:52 PM

It must be taken into account that this individual's job depends on the incarceration of others.

Posted by: beth | Apr 5, 2010 4:42:44 PM

federalist, for you to accuse anyone else of "moral preening" is laughable - it's the only mode in which you operate.

Further, you basically admit you're grandstanding without any reality-based grounding for your views, and don't see that as a problem because you're sure you're "right," even if you know you're not correct. You're engaging in crass demagoguery, not making a legitimate (much less practical) public policy argument.

I don't know why I ever bother responding to such substance-free pablum.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 5, 2010 4:53:56 PM

Well, Grits, it's your choice what you respond to, but it seems to me that you have missed my point. I was reacting to the "fear-mongering" comment by Doug. Whether or not there's any choice in the matter of prisoners to be let go is simply irrelevant.

And perhaps the desire that the people's will not be thwarted by an unelected and unaccountable federal judges in a circuit with a very bad record of getting it right is "pablum"--but it is a legitimate point of view and a legitimate topic for debate.

As for "reality based", I say that my prediction that there will be a price in blood for these releases is reality based. That you cannot even accept that shows a studied lack of good faith. The bottom line is that the people's will is being thwarted in a manner that is going to cause real people real harm. It's far from grandstanding to point that out.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 5, 2010 5:12:00 PM

"If California voters controlled the state budget, a majority would agree to cut spending in only two areas - the state's prisons and parks, according to a Field Poll to be released today."

Posted by: George | Apr 5, 2010 6:48:50 PM

What I don't understand about all this talk about California is that already its prisons release about 10,000 prisoners a month. That's been the case for years. The most recent reform, SB 18 3X, is expected to reduce the prison population by a total of 6,500. The reason these articles seem like fear mongering is not so much that they overemphasize whether violent or nonviolent offenders will be released but that they utterly ignore the reality that thousands of offenders are already and long have been cycling through California's prisons. They portray as a new and unprecedented problem what is really a modest expansion of business as usual, giving the public little realistic context for evaluating whether their risk will actually go up. Now, eventually California will indeed have to step up its reduction of the prison population by a much larger scale to comply with the Ninth Circuit. But that's a situation California got itself into over the past 20 years by failing to have any sort of rational balance between sentencing policy and prison construction realities. If releasing prisoners early seems dangerous, well, arguably overcrowded prisons full of infectious disease and in which gangs, idleness, etc. flourish don't keep Californians very safe either since the reality is most prisoners do get out eventually (even before the new bill, federal court order, etc.)

Posted by: Sara Mayeux | Apr 5, 2010 7:00:43 PM

My apologies for another broken link. Fixed.

State's voters want cuts to prisons, parks

Posted by: George | Apr 5, 2010 11:02:11 PM

nothing new there sara the govt and media make billions and win 100's of millions of votes by hipeing the negative and forgetting the posititve COMPLETELY!

based on news reports and political specials you would swear sex crimes epidemic and at a 10,000 year high and are the major threat to children in the world...When IN FACT every study done in the last 15-20 years show crime ALL crime is at a 20-30 year LOW and that the major threat to children is in FACT their OWN FAMILY!

the so-called "stranger danger" that 100% of the laws are made to stop actualy only account for 5-8% of all sex crimes and children killed in a sex crime number between 100-150 a year. YES that is horrible but NOT a national emergency.

not when DUI drivers take out 50,000 people EVERY YEAR which includes men, women, and CHILDREN!

BUT i've yet to see the first law saying "one drink and your out!" "if convicted of a DUI you a prohibited from living or working or walking within 3,000 feet of a bar, club, lounge, or store or ANYWHERE else alcohol might be present!"

and the real bigged! "These laws apply to anyone who has any kind of conviction with a alcohol component since 1982"

WHICH is what Ohio did about a year ago for sex offenders. With a mailer 1000's went from NOTHING no registry no probation no NOTHING to being the worst of the worst required to be rebooked at the local police station every 90 days the REST OF THEIR LIFE! without benefit of even a HEARING let alone a NEW CRIME!

of course i think it's funny! since it is coming for them all. If the 10,000 cases now in the courts fighting these idiotic illegal laws are simply waved off by the courts since it's ONLY SEX OFFENDERS! well guess what once that president is set...DUI and any other crime the febs want it to apply to will be hit with it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 6, 2010 2:55:11 AM

What say you, federalist, to Sara Mayeux's thoughtful observations?

Or to BC's sensible criticisms of bogus-sounding figures and concepts the author attributed to the "last thorough study"?

Or are they just preening, soft-on-crime liberals?

The author's suggestion there's no such thing as a nonviolent felony is silly.

Congress has been cranking out scores of new felonies (including many non-violent ones) virtually every year since Nixon-era demagogues fully embraced the political power of fear mongering crime.

Or perhaps federalist or Bill would be good enough to expound on the violent nature of a recent "honest services" case or any of the thousands of obscure regulatory and Commerce Clause absurdities masquerading as felonies.

As for recidivism, given the lengths society goes to to stigmatize and marginalize ex-cons it's a wonder they all don't end up back in prison.

Posted by: John K | Apr 6, 2010 1:42:29 PM

A quick take--what, because of the reality that most criminals eventually get out, it's no problem to accelerate it? Odd logic.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 6, 2010 2:35:46 PM

Not really.

Posted by: John K | Apr 6, 2010 3:35:19 PM

I'm really enjoying the last few posts in which you describe your process - very informative!

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