Friday, November 13, 2009

State Plan a Mix of Releases and Correctional Expansion

I've just finished going over the CDCR population reduction plan in all its more-than-100 page glory (including the depositions). For those who rejoiced in the original August order to reduce population, the plan will be a disappointment; but even those who found the panel's reasoning problematic will find little cause for rejoice.

Here are the essentials: The state stands behind the measures it proposed previously, in the noncompliant plan submitted September 18. Those included credit enhancements for good behavior, a certain quota of inmates housed in out-of-state facilities, more reliance on community corrections, sentence commutation, and parole reform (including the recently approved summary parole for nonviolent offenders).

In addition, the state proposes to seek changes to legislation that impedes broader use of the out-of-state option, privatization, shifting jurisdiction to county jails, and accelerated construction of prisons. It does so while expressing doubts about the federal panel's authority to require violation of state laws; according to the state, therefore, these measures are necessary to bring the plan to the 137.5% reduction level.

The depositions provide concrete numbers regarding the reduction rates.

Jay Atkinson (Chief of Offender Information Services Branch) estimates that the California Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act of 2009 generates a system of rewards for probation success. Implementing it will achieve an approximate reduction of 1,915 inmates. In addition, releases based on good behavior credits will yield 2,921 reduction; raising the threshold of grand theft from $400 to $950 will yield a 2,152 reduction; and programs for alternative custody for low-risk offenders will achieve a 4,800 reduction. My summary: 11,788 total reductions. Atkinson cannot provide estimates for the reductions resulting from parole reform, but those may yield additional reductions.

Scott Kernan (Undersecretary of Operations) states that, by approximately January 2011, CDCR anticipates housing a total of 10,468 inmates at out-of-state facilities. In addition, it will push to remove an existing clause that mandates termination of the out-of-state program. Changing this clause will allow the state to expand its out-of-state program by 1,500 beds by December 31, 2011. In addition, the state plans to pursue privatization options more aggressively (the out-of-state options themselves are privatized.) Contracting with private facilities will provide an additional 5,000 beds for inmates removed from state institutions. Finally, CDCR will engage in a complicated game of musical chairs, which will involve shifting inmates around, switching between male and female inmates in some institutions, closing down 3 male facilities, and creating more community correctional facilities. This option will yield no more than a 800 inmate reduction. Total seems to be 17,768. Combining the two statements, the grand total seems to be a 29,556 reduction.

I haven't checked up the math on the additional 10,000 reduction, but the plan suggests that this will be achieved through a combination of programs: commutation sentences, changes in juvenile facilities, and other measures that were mentioned in the original plan.


As can be seen by these two contrasting depositions, the state is pursuing two "prongs" of overcrowding solutions: the type that the court wished to encourage - namely, early releases, parole reform, and sentencing reform - and the type that the court will be very disappointed in, such as increasing prison construction and shipping more inmates out of state. Interestingly, these measures are predicted to yield more reductions than shuffling people within the existing incarceration options. The plan has, therefore, a bit of a "split personality". Some of it expands the penal monster and some of it works to decrease it (in the spirit of humonetarianism.) I assume the court will be rather dismayed by this. Leaving the reduction methods up to the state opened the door for the state to cling to the old solutions of expansion, contraction, and exporting Californians to other states; but since the panel was convened for the sole purpose of solving the problem of constitutional violations in health care, its ability to have a general say regarding the system’s size is rather limited.


There is another issue which, while not directly yielding reductions, merits attention. At the panel’s request, the remaining depositions describe the impact of cuts to rehabilitative programs on prison conditions.

Sharon Aungst (Chief Deputy Secretary of the Division of Correctional Health Care) states that the decrowding will not improve treatment for the mentally ill, but the cuts in rehabilitative programs will have an adverse effect on weekly activities for mentally ill patients.

Robert Ambroselli (Acting Director, Division of Adult Parole Operations) estimates that the parole sites and programs have served a combined 18, 449 people, though some of these may be repetitive (enrolled in more than one programs). The expected $41,000,000 reduction in operational budget will lead to delays in finalizing and activating new sites.

Finally, Elizabeth Siggins (Acting Chief Deputy Secretary for Adult Programs) states that the budget cuts will lead to a significant reduction in treatment slots. 4,633 inmates (a 5000 reduction) will be benefitting from community-based aftercare treatment. Substance abuse programs will be available to 1588 inmates (4000 reduction). There will not be changes to in-custody drug treatment, the parolee service network (serving 863 inmates) and the female offender treatment and employment program (serving 412 inmates). 80,000 parolees will be getting employment opportunities through California New Start.


These are grim news indeed. It would appear that, over the next few years, possible gains with regard to health care will be offset by losses in terms of rehabilitative programs. The panel’s program to reform California prisons through the opportunity to intervene in health care seems to have been frustrated by the methods adopted by the state.

A final thing to remember is that the state’s plan is not to be construed as abandonment of its appeal to the Supreme Court. The state consistently repeats, throughout its legal documentation, the right to appeal the order, which it still maintains is erroneous. Given the particulars of the current plan, it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will see the panel’s attempt to fix the health care system in a favorable light. It is a sober reminder, though, that judicial review of state institutions is an imperfect and limited solution, and while it has the ability to change policies and practices in ways that are impossible through legislative and administrative channels, its narrow, case-by-case focus may have unpredictable, and disappointing, outcomes.


Jerry Jarvis said...

SB xxx 18 seems to be a step forward to reductions.

Jerry Jarvis said...

A thought just came to mind, now that the ball is in the courts field, when will the courts make a decision about what the State has served up?

Unknown said...

Grrr. I really don't like the shifting people around aspect. Part of the HUGE problem with mental health/medical health care is that all the shifting around that already happens means that prisoners get to a new location and for some reason their medical records don't follow them. Then, the new facility has to do a ton of extra work (and thus, spend extra money) figuring out what the heck is going on. (That is if the prisoner is lucky enough to even be able to see a health care worker at the new place.)

Hadar Aviram said...

Interestingly, Crystal, the shifting around issue won't even generate a lot of bed availability. So it might hamper the medical service quality problem without doing much for the overcrowding problem.

SB 18 does look promising, Jerry. But I suspect much of this plan isn't very realistic, and the state is just hoping for the Supreme Court to reverse the panel's decision...