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August 9, 2013

How would you advise California to deal with its lingering prison problems?

La-me-prisons-20130807-gThe question in the title if this post is prompted by this new Los Angeles Times article headlined "California prisons could free 1,000 to ease crowding: The state scrambles to relocate thousands of inmates to comply with a court order." Here is the set-up:

Under court orders to ease prison crowding by the end of the year, California officials are scrambling to relocate 9,600 inmates but may be forced to free roughly 1,000 of them before they have completed their sentences.

Officials say most offenders are likely to remain locked up, in privately owned prisons, county jails and other facilities. But some low-level criminals, as well as seriously ill and elderly inmates, could be released, state plans show.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a three-judge ruling that the prisons remain too crowded and inmate numbers must drop. Gov. Jerry Brown has appealed the judges' order, saying the results could harm public safety, but in the meantime his administration must comply.

Putting inmates on the street would present thorny political problems for Brown, who is widely expected to run for reelection next year and insists that California has done enough to relieve overcrowding. But "the closer we get to the end of the year, the more difficult it becomes" to avoid releases, Brown's corrections secretary, Jeffrey Beard, said in an interview.

The state is working on a deal to move hundreds of prisoners to Alameda County jails in coming weeks, and officials are in talks to rent space at a private prison in Kern County. They are considering reopening two low-security detention centers, also in Kern County. Thousands of other inmates would be in firefighting camps or would be confined in other states.

Many of those steps would be costly — and the state would still need to shed about 1,000 more prisoners. So corrections officials and prison medical personnel are reviewing discharge rules and evaluating inmate cases to determine who could be released. No releases have been scheduled. Officials have not yet detailed all of their plans with the court and are identifying more potential candidates than they may need.

They have already developed new criteria for allowing seriously ill prisoners to be let out. Previously, an inmate needed 24-hour care to qualify; now, officials say, prisoners would no longer have to be bedridden. They could qualify if they have a terminal illness or a severe disability such as Alzheimer's disease or paralysis. Those sentenced to death or life without parole would be ineligible, regardless of medical condition.

About 900 inmates meet the new standards for medical release, according to Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the court-appointed receiver who runs prison healthcare. But it is unclear how many of their cases could be vetted by the end of the year or how many would be approved by the state parole board....

New rules for paroling elderly inmates are also in the works, according to the state's court filings. Prisoners could qualify if they are at least 60, have served at least 25 years of their term and are not sentenced to death or life without parole. Others who could be considered for release are prisoners who committed low-level, nonviolent crimes and are not sex offenders required to register their whereabouts after discharge. The process for releasing them could involve expanding credit for good behavior.

Officials say they've identified about 1,200 low-level inmates who have less than a year left in their sentences and are considered less likely than others to commit new crimes. About 500 similar inmates with more than a year left to serve could also be considered for release. If necessary, other prisoners serving time for minor offenses but who are gang members or committed serious infractions behind bars could also be considered, court papers show.

James Austin, a prison consultant working with lawyers who have sued the state over crowding in its lockups, said that with fewer than five months left to meet the judges' order, authorities are unlikely to avoid early releases. "There's no escaping it now," he said.

But even high-risk inmates are routinely released when their sentences end, Austin noted. Letting prisoners go a few months ahead of time won't change their likelihood of reoffending, he said. Beard said he is still hoping to avoid releases altogether, but officials are unsure whether the state can spend money on alternative housing without legislative approval — even though the judges waived any local or state laws that could hamper compliance with their order....

Brown should be building or reopening prisons rather than sending any more inmates to counties, said Abel Maldonado, a Republican former lieutenant governor who may challenge Brown next year and is pushing for a ballot measure to undo some of the governor's prison policies....

The legal and political pressures have put a harsh spotlight on California prisons, long a magnet for controversy. "The nation is watching," said San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos, a critic of Brown's prison policies. "We better get it right."

So, dear readers, just how would you advise California's policy-makers and law-makers to make sure they finally fix this final prison problem right?

August 9, 2013 at 07:47 AM | Permalink


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The ones that have 12 months or less and are less likely to reoffend..
Gone....Under 3 yrs and less likely....3-6 months in halfway house or house arrest with bracelet....Then they are gone..

If they still need more....Less than 5, repeat the same as for 3 yrs or less.

The ageing and/or sick that arenot too likely.. Gone first, forgot about those guys...

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Aug 9, 2013 10:41:31 AM

Following up on Midwest Guy, if more needed, release all persons on parole who have been convicted of possession with intent to distribute or distribution of marijuana or cocaine, provided no gun involved, and no prior felony conviction.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 9, 2013 11:30:41 AM

Addendum to last Post:

Following up on Midwest Guy, if more needed, release all persons on parole who have been convicted of possession with intent to distribute or distribution of marijuana or cocaine who have served more than 3 years, provided no gun involved, and no prior felony conviction.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 9, 2013 11:33:25 AM

Assume that that the state had two core objectives with respect to those sentenced to prison, accountability and risk control. On paper, categorically reduce the sentences of all offenders for accountability by X amount. This will create a pool of offenders who are being held for risk control reasons only. Using a risk evaluation instrument, calculate the risk of all offenders in that pool. Release as many as necessary from that pool, starting with those with the lowest level of risk.

In this way those who are similarly situated as to accountability will be treated similarly. Those who are similarly situated as to risk will be treated similarly.

The sentencing system should be revised so that it incorporates these same principles.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Aug 9, 2013 1:52:03 PM

All very good suggestions. But will never happen. All of them require a set of politicians with two things NONE have. Brains and balls!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 9, 2013 6:08:22 PM

1) The sole mature and profitable use of the criminal law, giving any value to the taxpayer is incapacitation. Because 95% of adjudicated charges, including non-violent ones are fictitious, no one knows who is violent, who is not. All other purposes of the criminal law return zero value to the owners, the taxpayers, and are rent seeking. Rent seeking, even lib economists agree, is a synonym for armed robbery. Don't pay your taxes, a man with a gun will show up to help you do so.

2) The courts have no competence in corrections, even relative to the legislature that enacted the laws causing crowding. So the appellate decisions, including the refusal to cert at the Supreme Court are void for lack of scientific validation (see Daubert for how unscientific conclusions violate due process rights).

3) If federal thugs arrive to enforce the court order, hand them the keys to the prisons. Take down their names, and publish them. If they release the criminals, the future victims can find them, and beat their asses.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 10, 2013 1:24:45 AM

I am an interested citizen.

Release those whose offences are truly "victimless" first. Possession type drug offences, for example, where the person was not driving under the influence or committing some secondary, more harmful crime. Release those who are too old and ill to re-offend. Release those who have been good citizens and are near the end of their sentences or near to a parole date where parole is likely to be granted.

Scrutinize convictions, and equalize. If somebody was given a much harsher sentence than the average, and they had poor representation, reduce the sentence.

And on another topic, stop the privatization of our prisons, as this is just a profiteering scheme that encourages us to lock up more people.

And stop the use of long term solitary confinement 100%. This is torture, period.

Posted by: Dawn Wolfson | Aug 10, 2013 4:06:19 PM

Dawn, please volunteer as a prison guard. So you may show everyone how to handle an ultra-violent prisoner fling bodily fluids at passers by. I would like to see the effects of giving him a hug by you.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 10, 2013 4:33:59 PM

I would attack the three-judge panel mercilessly in the press. Utterly mercilessly. And then I would pin every victim on Barack Obama--absent the unpatriotic Harvard woman and the "wise [sic] Latina," these crimes don't occur. The attacks on Reinhardt would include his dishonesty in the Belmontes case.

My guess is that a few press conferences featuring victims would cow these 'rat judges.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 10, 2013 10:02:49 PM

federalist, time for a new tune, don't you think?

Posted by: onlooker | Aug 11, 2013 1:58:12 AM

Onlooker: How about once in a while you show the slightest concern for crime victims, instead of government make work jobs generated by precious criminals for worthless parasites?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 11, 2013 4:30:43 AM

onlooker --

Why should federalist look for a new tune when his adversaries keep singing the same old song?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 11, 2013 7:27:33 AM

Federalist: you write, "I would attack the three-judge panel mercilessly in the press. Utterly mercilessly." Federalist, why not attack the six supreme court justices that denied the stay? You already attack mercilessly every other judge you disagree with.

"And then I would pin every victim on Barack Obama--absent the unpatriotic Harvard woman" Federalist, if only you were half the patriot she is.

"the wise [sic] Latina," You should be half as wise as she. And maybe if you were Latino, you would have a better understanding of the world we live in. crimes don't occur.

"The attacks on Reinhardt would include his dishonesty in the Belmontes case." Tiresome rehash of stale nonsense.

So let's see. You attack Obama--a black man; Sotomayor, a Hispanic, Kagan and Reinhardt, Jews. Do we discern a pattern here?

Posted by: observer | Aug 11, 2013 1:15:03 PM

I'm a paralegal who works with the Prisoners Hunger Strike Support Coalition. I'm certain lawyers can use their privilege and status to 1) make the public aware of the dangerous, unjust, and inhumane conditions in prisons (especially solitary confinement and death row). 2) "rules" about gang validation that lands most men in the SHU that are clearly unconstitutional. 3) difficulties for people who are released to get on with their lives (job and housing limitations). 4) EDUCATE YOURSELVES AND BE OUTSPOKEN (especially if you aren't social justice lawyers).

Posted by: Nancy Arvold | Aug 11, 2013 4:20:26 PM

Sentencing Review Boards, three of them at least, with 'citizen' members, are needed to review the disparate sentences that abound in Calif. Send mentally disturbed people to institutions that can treat instead of torture. Release prisoners whose date for release has passed. ABOLISH THE GANG VALIDATION system, which is arbitrarily administered. Get rid of guards who are abusive, who are hired to know how to sanely control the prisons so that conflicts do not happen.

Posted by: Penny Schoner | Aug 11, 2013 4:39:45 PM

observer --

To federalist: "So let's see. You attack Obama--a black man; Sotomayor, a Hispanic, Kagan and Reinhardt, Jews. Do we discern a pattern here?"

So let's see. The liberals on this board attack federalist, TarlsQtr1, Kent Scheidegger and me -- all white males. Do we discern a pattern here?

Well, yes, we do. But it's not racism, as you falsely imply. It's that -- ready now? -- the libs disagree with all four of us on the merits. Imagine that!

Now here's the next big surprise: federalist takes on Obama, Sotomayor, Kagan and Reinhardt for exactly the same reason. He disagrees with them on the merits.

Please make the case that disagreement with women and minorities is verboten.

Of course you're not about to make such a case, there being none. Instead, what you're trying to do is exempt left-wing opinions from criticism by insinuating that the critic must be racist. Tailgunner Joe must be smiling.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 11, 2013 6:10:29 PM

"You should be half as wise as she. And maybe if you were Latino, you would have a better understanding of the world we live in. crimes don't occur."

Funny how libs always vouch for how wise Sotomayor is, but they never seem to want to defend her comment that Ginsburg's opinion would have affirmed the 2d Circuit in the Ricci case, nor do they defend her incoherent response to Senator Kohl on term limits, her clownish focus on 6.5 hours in the Pinholster oral argument, her embarrassing opinion in Buck v. Thaler or her view that prisoners should get the franchise.

One day someone will have to explain how treating military recruiters like second-class citizens is "patriotic."

As for Reinhardt, I don't see how being dishonest in a legal opinion is ever ok for a judge. Maybe you could explain. Didn't the victim's family deserve better?

Of course, onlooker, you're a twit and never in a million years could you debate with me. So you resort to insinuation of racial bias. Pathetic.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 12, 2013 12:19:04 AM

ancy and Penny: How about the return of the lash to establish control by guards. Start with lashing the lawyers promoting gang violence in prison and attacks on guards. People like you are deeply morally reprehensible, in some ways accomplices to the violent predator in prison. I believe that direct action groups of the families of the victims of your client should visit you and the judges that enable and encourage your crusade to undermine prison safety.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 12, 2013 3:15:29 AM

'...never in a million years could you debate with me...'

debating irrational people is a complete waste of time and a complete act of futility

Posted by: . | Aug 12, 2013 5:41:42 PM


Posted by: MONIQUE | Aug 23, 2013 10:24:36 PM

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