You may recall the $400,000,000 cuts from the Governor's budget action in February, which included the Governor's expectation that the cuts be implemented "“in a manner that promotes rehabilitation and preserves public safety.” The original budget action also mentioned some specific ways to deal with the problem:
Counties will recall that over the last several years a range of proposals have been put forth by a variety of sources — expert panels, the Administration, and the Legislature, among others — that aim to reform the corrections system, while realizing cost savings. These proposals include various approaches to parole reform, credit enhancement, increasing thresholds for property crimes, and other sentencing changes. It is not certain whether CDCR will pursue these or other means for achieving the $400 million in savings, but the CDCR Secretary and staff have assured counties and local law enforcement stakeholders that they welcome input and suggestions, given that any reform effort is sure to impact local governments and local public safety. CSAC will continue to be engaged on counties’ behalf regarding these proposals and any others that may be considered in order to meet the Governor’s directive.
Here are the main changes, as they appeared on the Chron, the L.A. Times, and the Sac Bee:
- Reduction of parole population by 25% (about 30,000 parolees), focused on nonviolent offenders
- Impact of reduction: lesser parole violations, less returns to prison - a projected reduction of 4,000 in prison population
- Expansion of good behavior credits for inmates who successfully complete educational/rehabilitative programs - a projected reduction of 4,000 inmates
- Increased use of GPS monitors for parole violators, rather than a return to prison
- A change in the definition of grand theft, which will raise the threshold from $400 to $950 (the previous number was set in 1982!)
- Elimination of 150-200 positions at CDCR's Sacramento headquarters
- Closure of one juvenile prison
- As a concession to law enforcement opponents: proposed legislation that will allow police to search former prisoners and seize evidence of a crime from them without a warrant for at least three years after their release, even if they are not on parole
The decrease in parolee numbers is probably a healthy thing. I wonder whether it will be tied to severity of offense or to some measure of risk assessment (CDCR, please post the details on the website!). Most importantly, the hope is that the decisions on who is let off the hook will be in line with the parole reform suggestions that CDCR had begun working on.
The concession seems to be quite dramatic, its constitutionality seems questionable, and it certainly does not lie in CDCR's realm of expertise. Search and seizure raise constitutional issues, and in the current climate, given that this exercise of power doesn't have a price tag attached to it, I don't see CA courts, or even the Supreme Court, dismissing such legislation. The Supreme Court has been typically dismissive of the rights of former prisoners in respect ot search and seizure, exemplified by its decision in Samson v. CA (2006), which allows for a suspicionless search of parolees. So, this concession will be a legislative expansion of Samson to non-parolees as well.
While a 8,000-inmate reduction may seem dramatic to victim advocacy groups, it is a far cry from the 50,000-inmate reduction suggested in the Plata v. Schwarzenegger tentative decision, and will have a very small effect on the overcrowding problem (not that releasing 50,000 inmates with no re-entry programs to speak of is a good idea in this economy, as we argued elsewhere).
One prison is closing down. Will the CDCR continue building other prisons? Three weeks ago there was still talk of looking for $810,000,000 (twice the budget cut!) for purposes of prison expansion.
What do you think?