Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Senator Cuts a Special Deal to Keep Parolees Out of His County

One of the sex-offender related legislative innovations of the last decade was the introduction of residence restrictions. As we explained elsewhere, residence restrictions, which prohibit registered sex offenders from living near schools or parks, have made many parts of California inhabitable for those formerly for sex offenses, many of whom have become homeless.

As to others, well, it turns out that at least one CA lawmaker thought they should stay out of his county, even before Jessica's Law was enacted. . The Sac Bee reports:

In what state Sen. George Runner characterized as a "side agreement" with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the prison and parole agency said it would limit assignments of released offenders into the Antelope Valley to those who had "historical ties" to the area....

CDCR officials, saying that the deal violated the law, terminated the agreement this spring.

"When we took a look at it, we said we can't treat offenders in this county any different than offenders in any other county," said Terri McDonald, the CDCR's chief deputy secretary for adult operations.

Runner sees the agreement as a proper way to correct the imbalance generated by the habit of "dumping" parolees in Lancaster Valley.

"From the very beginning, there was not a connection between the issue of 'Jessica's Law' and this particular issue of parolees in the Antelope Valley," Runner said in an interview.

He said that the location of a major, maximum-security prison in the Antelope Valley combined with the area's relatively cheap housing made it "easier to dump (parolees) in Lancaster."

I think this story is an interesting lesson in the side effects of sweeping punitive legislation, and it is a good reminder of the inequality between different counties. Can we imagine how the segregation of parolees into specific counties might contribute to the big differences in how they are treated and perceived?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Receivership News

Volume 2(6) of the Receivership newsletter, Turnaround Lifeline, is out. Among other issues, you'll find information on creating an electronic repository of the inmates' medical files, as well as on containing the H1N1 flu virus (an issue we reported about here).

Although closing to visitors was considered necessary to minimize the possibility of an influenza pandemic, it came at an unfortunate time for many- the prisons were closed on the weekend of Mother’s Day... [f]ortunately for all involved, only a very small percentage of CDCR’s pending probable cases of the H1N1 “Swine Flu” virus were confirmed by the State Testing Lab and the virus was contained. Dr. Winslow attributes this success to “fast and effective action by our medical and custody staff throughout the State.” He goes on to note that the steps taken by CDCR and CPHCS during the flu outbreak “appear to have helped avoid a potentially dangerous situation.” Visitation has since resumed and the previously cancelled Mother’s Day visitation trip has been rescheduled for June 26th, but precautionary health measures have been implemented to ensure the continued containment of the H1N1 “Swine Flu” virus.

There are also interesting features on telemedicine and on the pharmacy improvements. True to the spirit of humonetarianism, telemedicine is advocated as a cost-saving measure.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day: "Get on the Bus" Program

The enclosed video reports on an initiative of developing healthy father-child relationships in a DC jail. Similar initiatives are occurring locally, as we read today in a
heartwarming report from the CDCR website:
“Approximately 200,000 children in California have an incarcerated parent and live with relatives or in foster care who may be unable to travel the distance to visit their father,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. “This event will help strengthen the bond between father and child and that’s especially important when these men are released from prison.

"Today, 17 buses filled with more than 500 children and their caregivers traveled from major cities across the state to California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo and Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad.

“Seeing these children greet their fathers is a dramatic and unforgettable picture,” said Get on the Bus Executive Director Sister Suzanne Jabro. “These children pay the high price of separation from their fathers and this is a monumental effort by the community and the state to strengthen those family bonds."

There is a small but interesting literature on fatherhood from within walls. Justin Dyer, for example, uses identity theory to argue that prison interferes with the experience of fatherhood. A healthy relationship between father and child, even while the father is incarcerated, is a proven factor in reducing recidivism. Here's a fascinating curriculum by Carl Mazza, teaching parenting skills to incarcerated fathers through a narrative technique:

The role-plays become problem-solving exercises between father and child even though, obviously, the children themselves are never present. With each weekly topic, the men are strongly encouraged to be insightful into their own past experiences and motivations. For example, in the unit concerning instilling cultural/racial pride, the men first need to examine how they really feel about bring from a specific cultural group. They are encouraged to react to the various stereotypes (both positive and negative) regarding their cultural group. They need to remember how they felt as boys and whom they held as role models. While there is always a lively discussion, the men are not forced to disclose their feelings. Disclosure occurs when individual students feel the need to do so.

And here's a helpful bibliography on children of incarcerated parents, courtesy of the Family and Corrections Network.

Happy Father's Day!

Correctional Budget Cuts at the Local Level: Decrowding Shasta County Jail

(Shasta County Jail building image from the Sheriff's website)

Not long ago we discussed the plan to shift state prisoners into local facilities, as well as the local resistance to the plan. This may not be as feasible as the Governor's office believes, since many local facilities face financial difficulties of their own.

This morning's Redding Record Searchlight reports on more humonetarian occurrences on the local level.

According to the Shasta County Sheriff's website, the Shasta County Jail is a high security facility, with a capacity of 381 inmates, 317 males and 64 females. It seems that this capacity has been reached through aggressive parole revocation operations, and the plan now is to scale back on jail time and on parole operations to relieve the budgetary distress.

Here is what seems to be going on:

Shasta County's drunken drivers, petty thieves and drug users are less likely to serve jail time. Parolees will be given a bit more leeway on violations that can send them back to prison. And even fewer prisoners police bring to the Shasta County jail will spend a night in a cell.

Local officials say that's the reality now that Shasta County's 381-bed jail is 150 inmates smaller.

As jailers have been quickly and quietly working to release a third of the inmates from the jail because of budget cuts, local law enforcement officials have been meeting to plan how they're going to deal with the sudden loss of space at the already chronically full jail.


The decision to clear out a floor of the jail came earlier this month after the Shasta County Board of Supervisors refused Sheriff Tom Bosenko's pleas to find other ways to trim from the county's general fund budget rather than make him cut more than $2 million cut from his budget.

Bosenko has since ordered the floor closed and the layoffs of six jail employees.

Jailers began freeing up jail space almost immediately after the decision, mainly by stepping up their "capacity-release" program that lets newly admitted prisoners go free, often before they'd even had time to post bail.

"We're trying not to do a mass release," said Lt. Sheila Ashmun, the jail's second-in-command.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tax Cannabis 2010: More Marijuana Humonetarianism

In 2010, we may expect to see on our ballots this proposal, which essentially aims to legalize the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adult Californians. The language of the proposal is still in draft format and was last amended today; the people behind the proposal are soliciting responses.

What is interesting, and controversial, is the market and fiscal aspect of the proposal, which gives cities the prerogative to set sales tax, procedures and legalization as they please. In that sense, control over possession and sale would be very localized (and I wonder how that would work for the Feds, especially considering the federal lack of respect for permissive local rules, as per Virginia v. Moore).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Death Penalty Humonetarianism

More bipartisan disgruntlement about the death penalty, fueled by its dysfunctions and discontents: yesterday's Chron featured an op-ed from Republican lawmaker Tom Harman.

In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report stating that the death penalty system in California was failing. In California, as of 2008, 30 inmates had been on Death Row for more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20 years and 240 for more than 15 years. Is California doing something wrong? Absolutely.

Delays in obtaining legal counsel, the appeals process, court-ordered moratoriums and other stalling tactics are routine. These delays ultimately place more value on the life of a convicted criminal than on that of the victim. I believe this is unacceptable to the victims, their families and the voters.

The sad truth in California is that killers on Death Row are far more likely to die of natural causes than at the hands of the state. As the commission noted, the interminable delays that have become the hallmark of the system have weakened the death penalty's effect on deterring crime.

Harman is a staunch believer in the death penalty, and so his contribution to the debate is particularly interesting. It is also timely, considering the upcoming public hearing on the lethal injection and the Day of Action on June 30th. Here's Jonathan Simon's take on this. And here's another example of this interesting trend.

More Resistance to the Plan to Reduce "Wobbler" Offenses to Misdemeanors

The proposal to prosecute "wobbler" offenses as misdemeanors, and thus reduce prison population (or, at least, juke the stats so that it appears that prison population is reduced) is encountering opposition not only from local jails. This time, the resistance comes from the Santa Cruz District Attorney, Bob Lee. The CDCR disagrees. Central Coast reports:

Examples of the penal code sections that would be revised, if state legislators agree, include fraud, forgery, grand theft, identity theft, auto theft, owning a "chop shop," destruction of utility lines, making a false bomb report and possession of methamphetamine, Lee said.

"This amounts to sacrificing public safety to put the fiscal house in order and that is extremely bad policy," Lee said.

State prison officials say the proposal and two others would ease overcrowding by sending an estimated 19,000 to jail instead of prison. The current prison population is about 167,000 and they estimate the change would shave $400 million from $10 billion prison budget.

"I think most people would agree that public safety is the No. 1 role of government," said Seth Unger, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "But in a time of very limited resources, we have to focus those resources on higher risk offenders."

This controversy is illustrative of the very different ways in which politicians and managers view corrections. For more on this stuff, I strongly recommend Katherine Beckett's Making Crime Pay, which tracks down correctional discourse since the late 1960s. In the book, Beckett traces two discourses that emerged as a response to the rehabilitative discourse, which had been proven a failure: the political discourse, which was punitive in nature, and which impacted public opinion quite dramatically, and the managerial discourse, which was much more low-key and relied on risk assessment and actuarial techniques to manage the increasing inmate and parolee population. It is not surprising that politicians and managers speak quite differently about crime; their interests and perspectives differ, and they seek legitimacy in different ways. While politicians require high profile messages to impact public opinion, managers have to cope directly with the day-to-day costs and burdens of managing the system.

The current crisis may bring some of these costs and burdens back to the politicians. A few weeks ago we reported on the downscaling of prosecutions in Contra Costa County. More of this may be happening elsewhere, and perhaps changing the chasm between politicians and managers. However, the differences in perspective are still alive.

Judge Broussard-Boyd: Prison Guards' Layoff Appeals are Premature

The intent to fire thousands of prison guards is very bad news for CCPOA, and the organization is fighting back. However, it seems that the fight, while enthusiastic, is a bit premature.

The judge's response (attached verbatim in Chuck Alexander's memo on the CCPOA website) is that ". . . your layoff notification must provide a specific date of layoff to be effective and confer the appropriate appeal rights".

It seems that many of the proposed measures for cuts in CDCR budget have not yet come to fruition, and we are all collectively waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Event: Day of Action to End the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Focus is organizing a Day of Action to end the death penalty on June 30, 2009. The date is scheduled to coincide with the public hearing regarding the reformed execution proceedings using lethal injection, which we reported about here.

In keeping with the financial crisis and humonetarianism themes, here's the ACLU of Northern California report on the costs of the death penalty and the potential savings that might result from its abolition, which we discussed here, here and here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Local Jails Oppose the Plan to Divert "Wobbler" Offenses Away from State Prisons

A while ago, we reported on the Governor's plan to divert "wobbler" offenses from state prisons to local jails. As expected, local authorities are reacting very badly to this plan to pass the buck. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Local law-enforcement officials warn that an influx of new inmates could force them to release their own prisoners to make room.

Changing sentencing guidelines would eventually steer 20,000 inmates away from state prisons to county jails, Mr. Schwarzenegger estimates. California's county jails now hold about 80,000 inmates, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


Local governments are hurting for money as badly as the state is -- with some of the pain coming as a result of reduced state funding. Many have cut budgets for their own local jails and detention facilities. "It's like a double whammy the state is sending our way," said Mike Reagan, a Solano County supervisor. "More prisoners and less money -- this is going to hurt like hell."

Mr. Reagan estimated his county would need to take an additional 1,200 inmates a year under Mr. Schwarzenegger's plan. That would overwhelm its jail system, which has reached capacity at 1,000 inmates, he said.

The financial crisis is generating plans that go beyond the non-punitive trend that we have called humonetarianism; it is also generating an abundance of plans that consist of playing with the statistics to make the problem appear smaller, in a manner reminiscent to the classic "juking the stats" scenes from The Wire, which is all too common in the criminal justice system. This category of solutions includes the treatment of undocumented immigrants, and especially the process of handing them to the feds. Engaging in these magic feats - making a population seem to disappear while, in reality, it doesn't - may prove to be a big mistake. The silver lining of the economic crisis is that it presents an opportunity for change, and hiding our overcrowding problem under the carpet means missing that opportunity completely, at someone else's expense.


Props to a friend who chooses to remain anonymous for sending the WSJ piece my way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Humonetarianism: Death Penalty Edition

John Van de Kamp, former California AG, says we can't afford the death penalty

According to the final report of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which I chaired from 2006 to 2008, the cost of a murder trial goes up by about half a million dollars if prosecutors seek the death penalty. Confinement on death row (with all the attendant security requirements) adds $90,000 per inmate per year to the normal cost of incarceration. Appeals and habeas corpus proceedings add tens of thousands more. In all, it costs $125 million a year more to prosecute and defend death penalty cases and to keep inmates on death row than it would simply to put all those people in prison for life without parole. 

Van de Kamp advocates eliminating the death penalty and commuting all death sentences in California to sentences of life without parole. 

Doing so would incapacitate some of the worst of the worst for their natural lives, and at the same time ensure that a person wrongfully convicted will not be executed. And it would save $125 million each year.

Getting rid of the death penalty would undoubtedly be a great thing for the administration of justice in California, but Life Without Parole does have its own implications. To name a few: what about all the pending appeals and habeas proceedings? How would the Corrections Department transition all those folks from death row? Would the debate over “how much” due process we think we can afford change without the morally-fraught death penalty to galvanize it? 

Reformers are taking advantage of the suddenly inflated salience of cost to the public to push for policies that were total non-starters just a year ago, but the dark side of this strategy is that there is also no willingness to implement these policies in a thoughtful, rather than merely a cost-avoidant, way. How much deeper a hole will we be in a year from now if all our decisions are made with an eye on short-term costs? 

Sentencing Commission Bill Passes First Reading in the Senate

... and moved to committee. We'll keep you posted. 

GOP opposition to Governor's Proposed Mass Releases

The Sacramento Bee reports:

State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth said today that most of his GOP colleagues oppose early release for illegal immigrant inmates or other state prisoners to help reduce the state's $24.3 billion deficit.

"We don't want to see early release. We don't want to see criminal aliens being released to the federal government and then deported and returning back to the streets and communities ofCalifornia - for a very small amount of savings, by the way," Hollingsworth, the SenateRepublican leader, told The Bee's Capitol Bureau in an interview. The GOP holds 15 out of 40 seats in the state Senate.

Monday, June 8, 2009

D.A.R.E. Responds to Governor's Marijuana Legalization Initiative

As expected, Governor Schwarzenegger's call to legalize marijuana did not generate a wall-to-wall consensus. One organization that rejects the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana is DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which published today a piece in which they argue that marijuana is too harmful to be decriminalized:

"Legalization is not a path we want to pursue," Dr. Kar added. "This is sending a message that use of marijuana is okay. If marijuana is legalized, people and especially young people, will tend to look at it and think, 'Well, if it's legal, it can't be too harmful.' It is by no means the benign drug that some would have us think. The most complete, objective and reliable scientific evidence is entirely in the other direction. We would run the risk of having a rise in a sicker and nonproductive population, which would be further detrimental to the state's economy, if more people were to begin using marijuana."

These concerns bring up a host of questions, some of which have to do with the medical assessment of harm stemming from marijuana abuse (read more about that debate in Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness), and some of which have to do with behavioral economics; namely, whether a change in legal status would lead more people to use marijuana. This last complex question has been the focus of a variety of studies on drug usage deterrence, including the masterful work of Rob MacCoun and Peter Reuter, who also draw parallels from other vices.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Inmate Employment and Mass Releases

... Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Just A Guy, an inmate blogging from within walls, shares his perpsective on mass releases on the Guardian's Political Blog. Among other issues, he discusses the impact of mass releases on support services:

In prison, Support Services are programs that often employ the lower-security inmates at lower-security institutions, who support the maintenance and running of higher-security prisons where all the really "bad" guys are. Oh, Support Services also supports various elements of the California government like the California Department of Forestry, where a bunch of us hardened criminals fight California's fires. The majority of people in lower-security institutions and in fire camps run by CDF are non-violent/non-serious offenders, a good portion of whom have less than a year left on their sentences -- and therefore, will be eligible for early release according to Arnold's plan to commute the sentences of non-violent/non-serious offenders with less than a year left.

Please listen to me, people. What do you think will happen to Support Services and to the CDF if 19,000 people are released early and a large portion of those released are the ones making sure that the "real” criminals in prison have their needs met to an extent where every day isn't a blood bath? Also, I don't know the exact numbers, but let's say that 10% of those released (1,900) are part of CDF. That means that California's trained firefighters have just been decimated right before fire season. Great.

According to Wikipedia, the California Department of Forestry employs 4,300 inmates.

The Correctional Crisis on KPFA

I was on KPFA this morning discussing the financial crisis and its impact on correctional policy:

The Morning Show - June 5, 2009 at 7:00am

Click to listen (or download)

I found Philip Maldari's observation that imprisonment costs more than college tuition particularly poignant.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Senate Bill to Eliminate LWOP for Juveniles Passes Committee Hearing

Since the death penalty was abolished for juveniles in Roper v. Simmons, public debate has shifted to the issue of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. The most recent news on this come from the California Senate Committee, which, according to the Chron, approved Senator Yee's bill to eliminate LWOP for juveniles and substitute it for sentences of 25 years to life.

The Chron reports:

The bill would overturn a component of Proposition 115, a tough-on-crime ballot initiative passed by voters in 1990.
The legislation pits law enforcement groups, which argue that there are teens who commit such horrendous crimes that they should spend the rest of their lives in prison, against some child psychiatrists and religious groups, which argue that teens' brains are still developing and even those who kill should be given a chance at redemption. Parole would be granted only to inmates who convinced both the state's parole board and governor that they deserve to be released.

Those interested in more information about the special problems concerning juveniles on LWOP might find interest in a PBS debate on the matter, or in the Frontline documentary When Kids Get Life.

Op-Ed on the Prison Budget Cuts

Our recent posts and discussion of the budget cuts made me think more generally about how the financial crisis can be an opportunity to reverse the punitive pendulum. My op-ed in the San Francisco Bay Guardian offers some ideas in that direction, which may not be new to readers of this blog. I hope we'll be able to rise to the occasion and make the most of what is a very dire situation.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CCPOA Fights the Layoffs Using a Public Opinion Poll

In order to fight the 3,600 anticipated job cuts, CCPOA launches a statewide poll, whose findings they present on their website. They report that "[w]hile some recent polls have found initial support for cuts, our poll probed deeper to learn that voters want to cut the fat, not the muscle."

Among their findings, as cited from the poll:
  • 54% do not want to cut the pay and benefits for correctional officers
  • 65% do not want to lay off correctional officers
  • 62% support reducing the growth of administration costs in corrections
  • 63% support eliminating the 400 planners hired under the Governor’s doomed prison reform legislation who have been spending millions planning for prisons that have not been built nor will they be built for decades
The poll, while representing CCPOA's mobilization (and understandable desperation) to fight the cuts, seems to have been framed and conducted in a way that undermines any conclusions to be drawn from the results. I am unclear on whether the quotes above the pie charts in the diagrams are the questions asked on the poll. If they are, they have been articulated in a non-neutral way that has probably contributed to yielding these particular results ("“California has one of the worst inmate to correctional officer ratios in the nation. Laying off officers in our prisons will make prisons more violent and will increase the number of assaults on the remaining officers. We should not cut the number of officers in our prisons as a way to save money.”) Also, it doesn't seem to be the case that respondents have been offered the choice of other cuts, such as rehabilitative programs, parole, or re-entry. As much of the new research on public punitiveness suggests, when the public is offered such options, it becomes far less punitive. Read all about it in this fabulous book, edited by Julian Roberts et al. This sort of research needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully, and I would encourage lawmakers in Sacramento not to take this particular poll results seriously when making decisions regarding the budget cuts. There may be excellent reasons not to lay off so many prison guards, but this poll is not one of them.

Sentencing Commission Bill Passes Third Reading at Assembly

Yesterday, the Sentencing Commission Bill, in its amended shortened version, passed its third reading at the Assembly (50 ayes, 29 noes). The breakdown by assembly members is here. If I'm not mistaken (and readers with more legislative savvy are welcome to correct me), the bill will now pass to the Senate hands.