Friday, July 31, 2009

What We're Left With

Our pals at Corrections One link today to a phenomenal and touching piece by Michael Cabral, currently serving time at Salinas State Prison, about the impact of the budget crisis on life within walls. Some of his sad words:

Now, six months later, the political solution to California’s budget crisis has eliminated all self-help programs behind the walls. First-time inmates are popping up regularly, impressionable youngsters with a year or so to serve. Without the support of any rehabilitative programs, prison for them will be less “Correction and Rehabilitation” and more “Corruption and Retaliation.”

Of course, a few of the “good guys” will try to lift their spirits, but an overwhelming number will be surrounded by company-seeking misery.

They’ll hear all about the system being out to get them, how their lives are ruined forever, how it would be pointless to parole and look for a decent job (or any job). Then, they’ll hear countless theories and strategies on how to become better, smarter criminals. Their environment will gradually break them down, and mold them into mindless — if not heartless — products of “the way life is” according to convict lore. Finally, they’ll rejoin society, never wanting to return to prison again, but knowing only how to do just that.

Read the rest of this moving piece here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Schwarzenegger Gives Go-Ahead to New Death Row

Execution chamber phones photo courtesy

Yes, you have read correctly. As the Chron reports this morning, while Governor Schwarzenegger makes more cuts to the legislative budget, he also approves the plan to rebuild Death Row, a project with an estimated cost of $356 million dollars, with a suspected $39 million dollar overrun. Some more details:

Without double-celling, the auditor's report said, the new Death Row will be filled to capacity in 2014. But the report said double-celling raises concerns of safety and privacy, and that a survey found that only one other state, Oklahoma, double-cells condemned prisoners.

The budget that legislators sent to Schwarzenegger would have prohibited construction of the new Death Row until the state determined, in a court ruling or a formal opinion from the attorney general, that it would be allowed to double-cell Death Row inmates.

Another budget provision would have blocked the project until the state resolved a lawsuit over prison overcrowding. The suit is pending before a panel of three federal judges in San Francisco, who have ruled that overcrowding is the chief cause of poor health care in state prisons.

We have blogged about the Death Row project before. Conditions in Death Row have only recently reached constitutional threshold. Several states, citing costs, have abolished the death penalty or set moratoria on it. Quite an assortment of commentators, from Jonathan Simon to Republican lawmaker Tom Harman, have pointed out (for different reasons) the need to abolish the death penalty; the ACLU has pointed to its costs as only one of many reasons why abolition is long overdue. What can I say? To say I think pouring more money into this particular form of punishment, rather than doing away with it, is a bad decision, is the understatement of the year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Schwarzenegger Signs Budget: No Further Cuts to CDCR

After making several changes and vetoes to the legislative proposal, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the California budget today. The Chron details the gubernatorial changes to the budget (millions taken away from education and welfare). Pay attention to what is missing: no further changes to the $1.2 billion unallocated cuts to the CDCR budget.

At this point, the question remains: How will the cuts be made? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Community Justice Center Celebrates 100 Days of Existence

Taking a break for a moment from the budget woes, the San Francisco Community Justice Center reports on its first 100 days.

In the first 100 days since the CJC opened, the program has been able to reduce delay for misdemeanor citations from 45 days to 2 days for the first court appearance. The court has taken most "out of custody" misdemeanor cases, and is increasing its felony cases. The court has successfully engaged people in treatment plans under our diversion laws immediately upon program entry. Of the 160 clients who have engaged in services, 60 accessed care under a justice mandate, 60 defendants voluntarily engaged in services and 40 ‘walked-in’ or were referred from other agencies. There is already a cost-savings story to tell. An estimate of jail bed savings of only 5 CJC defendants totals $23,000. In tracking 2 clients identified as high users of multiple systems (repeated hospital visits, emergency psychiatric treatment, police and fire in a 6 month period), the CJC’s centralized services coupled with court accountability reduced these costs by 50 percent.

While enjoying strong support from the Mayor and District Attorney, and some publicity due to the personal appearance of the SF Public Defender, the CJC has also been criticized during its inception. Recently, the court has not been on the news; some of this may be due to the fact that one of its more vocal critics, Supervisor Chris Daly, is currently occupied with other matters.

Skimping on Corrections? How They Do It in Texas

Prompted by our posts about the current dilemmas we face regarding the $1.2 billion cuts, and particularly Matthew Cate's recommendations, there's a thoughtful and interesting post this morning from our pals at Grits for Breakfast. Here's what Texas has tried to do to reduce its inmate population, and how well it has worked:

Texas pursued some of these same strategies in recent years to reduce its prison growth rate, a result achieved primarily by reducing the number of probation revocations. That was done through greater use of "progressive sanctions" and intermediate penalties for those who violate terms of supervision instead of sending them straight to prison. Secretary Cate's proposal would apply that tactic to both probation parole. Key to making it work, though, to judge by Texas' experience, will be boosting supervision resources, either by spending more money to supervise offenders in the community or reducing the length of supervision so officers are watching fewer people. That tactic will surely save money compared to sending the same folks to prison, but as a practical matter it will require additional investments to strengthen community supervision.

Adjusting the property crime thresholds is a strategy Texas has not yet pursued but which is probably justified here as much as in the Golden State. In Texas, theft
reaches felony thresholds when "the value of the property stolen is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000," so the same tactic could be applied here and would also reduce the number of new prison entrants. The $1,500 level was set in 1993 when the "state jail felony" category was created (essentially a fourth degree felony), and it's never been adjusted for inflation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Bottom Line: $1.2 Billion in Unallocated Savings

The California Budget Project provides a pretty helpful summary of the main cuts in the new budget, agreed upon after the marathon session in Sacramento.

With regard to corrections, their summary reads:

The budget agreement:
• Assumes $1.2 billion in unallocated savings from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
• Caps payments for contracted medical services for savings of $50 million.

The budget agreement has yet to be ratified by the Governor.

The next month promises to be extremely important, since discussions of the nature of the cuts are forthcoming. There is little disagreement about some potential measures, such as ratcheting up the requirements for several offenses, such as Grand Theft. There is also relatively little controversy about transferring old and infirm prisoners out of the prison system, or about handing undocumented immigrants to the Feds. Will there be actual inmate releases, beyond a mechanism of good credits? And to what extent will parole be diminished? Stay tuned.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Are you With Arnold or Against Arnold? GOP and Police Reactions to Budget Plan

(image courtesy the Sacramento Bee)

There has been some back-and-forth with police chiefs and GOP members over the last few days regarding their support of Governor Schwarzenegger's plan for the correctional system. Trying to make some sense of it all, it appears that the idea is to vote on unallocated savings, then figure out the details. The Governor has been quoted as saying that the prison issue had caused "some misunderstandings, and we are ironing them out." Basically, as the L.A. Times puts it, "[d]espite the delay, the budget deal will still include $1.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, though it will not specify how they are to be made".

The main point of contention, as we discussed here and here, is inmate release. The solution? Decide on the cuts, postpone discussion on what is to be cut. The inner dealings between Republicans and Democrats regarding this compromise, complete with political back-and-forth and emails titled "Budget Double Cross" (sic), are in the Sac Bee, for your reading pleasure (or agony).

Secretary Cate Proposes Alternatives to Inmate Release

(image courtesy CDCR)

Secretary Matthew Cate's column on Flash Report makes a few suggestions for shrinking the correctional budget without releasing inmates.

While no one is happy to be in the position of discussing a $1.2 billion reduction in the corrections budget, the Administration has developed a proposal in coordination with local law enforcement that is smart on crime, cuts prison populations, and saves taxpayer dollars. It is our hope that this reasonable and measured package can allow us to achieve our budget cut targets, without the early release that the public has feared.

Cate's proposal includes a reduction in the reincarceration of parole violations (a 5,300 reduction in prison population); using GPS monitoring as a prison alternative for low-risk offenders; adjusting property crime thresholds; moving undocumented immigrants to the hands of the Feds; providing good behavior credits for early release; and taking several administrative measures to save money. All in all, the proposal does not differ much from the Governor's proposal; the magical words "inmate release" aren't there, but there are a variety of release equivalents, packaged in a way that makes them easier to digest.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BREAKING NEWS - New Budget Plan: Less Felonies, Less Inmates, Less Parole

The Chron reports on the Governor's plan for corrections cuts, which includes changing the definition of some offenses, charging wobblers as misdemeanors, moving undocumented immigrants to the hands of the Feds, and narrowing the scope of parole. This plan will reduce the CA prison population by 27,000 inmates, and is already generating much opposition from Republican politicians.

Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Solution in Search of a Problem? More Sex Offender Legislation Dies in Committee

CA Assemblyman Paul Cook's legislative proposal - the newest version of sex offender legislation - died in committee. The novelty? Forbidding registered sex offenders whose offense included a child under 16 to sell ice cream. As is often the case with this sort of bill, it is presented as prompted by a particular incident, reported on Cook's website, where "the Megan's Law database revealed that a local ice cream truck driver was a registered sex offender".

Senator Mark Leno's questioning at the Standing Committee on Public Safety addressed the necessity of this new venture.

Current law says a registered sex offender whose offense involved a child under 16 cannot work "directly and in an unaccompanied setting with minor children on more than an incidental and occasional basis."

"Where is the weakness in that statute that ... you believe we're going to have registered sex offenders selling ice cream to our children?" Leno asked Cook Monday during a committee hearing. "I don't think there's any problem with the current statute."

But Cook said that leaves some ambiguity because an ice cream vendor isn't working with children in the same way as a day care worker.

"Are you working with kids, or are you selling ice cream?" he said. "If you're working with kids, then prevailing law applies. But if you're selling ice cream, you're selling ice cream to everybody."

Cook said the issue is particularly important because children are attracted to ice cream trucks and tend to trust those who operate them.

Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, who voted for the bill, said an ice cream vendor can build a relationship with a child that can later lead to exploitation or an attack.

. . .

Leno called Cook's bill "a solution in search of a problem."

In response to Leno's question whether there were actual examples of sex offenders operating the trucks, Cook mentioned the case that allegedly inspired the bill, but Riverside County Sheriff's officials denied having heard of the situation. Read more at The Sun.

It should probably be mentioned that a similar law was being considered in Iowa last year. Follow this one up to its probable doom at the CA legislation website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More News Regarding the Michigan Deal

The negotiation regarding the transfer of CA prisoners to Michigan facilities seems to be well under way. Bay City News reports:

Representatives from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made visits to the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility and the Muskegon Correctional Facility last week and negotiations between the two states are ongoing.

Seth Unger, spokesman for the California prison system, said the meetings were "very productive."

He said Michigan needs to assure officials that their prisoners will be living under standards set by the state of California.

John Cordell, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said his agency is working on a formal proposal to put forth to California.

The proposal will include the cost of housing California prisoners in Michigan, among other things.

Props to Jerry Jarvis for the update.

More CDCR Cuts in New Budget Deal: California Police Chiefs Wage War on Potential Inmate Release

The new California budget deal has been struck yesterday, and among other policies, it includes $1.2 billion in unallocated cuts to CDCR. While the San Jose Mercury reports that inmate release is not explicitly mentioned as one of the cuts, the broad issue is still on the table. As expected, some are not thrilled with this humonetarian move. The Sac Bee reports:

The campaign, expected to consist of thousands of phone calls, targets Democrats who plan to run for higher office next year, represent hotly contested districts, or who have been sympathetic or outspoken about law enforcement issues in years past.
"Frankly, it will not be possible for anyone who votes for the early release of felons to ever be taken seriously on public safety issues again," the campaign said in a memo to participants.
As part of a much larger plan to bridge the budget gap, the prison agreement would cut $1.2 billion from the prison system, which Melekian and other opponents fear could release more than 19,000 prisoners before their sentences expire.
"The concern is that the only way that you get to that amount of money is to release people from prison," Melekian said.
He said police chiefs are also concerned that there is no money available to help with prisoners' return to society.
"There's no money for job training – there's no money to do anything to transition these folks from institutional life to life back in the community," he said. "It's more than just releasing them. It's releasing them with no real plan for dealing with them."
Also see the report from UPI.

While releases of non-violent offenders would do good to a system that had no business locking up so many people in the first place, the concerns regarding reentry are certainly warranted. The time to think about reentry options for these released inmates is now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Proposed GPS Monitoring of Domestic Violence Offenders

(GPS tracking device image courtesy Slate Magazine)

Violators of domestic violence protective orders are increasingly subjected to GPS monitoring in several States, as reported by the NY Times and by the Chronicle. Implementing such legislation in CA, as opposed to Illinois and Texas, is somewhat of a challenge. The Chron elaborates:

Without GPS, police have been lax to follow up on complaints that partners are ignoring protective orders, said Tara Shabazz, executive director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

However, Shabazz and her organization oppose California's proposed GPS legislation because it would require the state to order GPS tracking for an offender without providing details on how to implement it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back in CA

Dear Readers,

Thank you for your patience with the recent scant posting. I've been away, backpacking through China (and, incidentally, learning a bit about the Hong Kong correctional system). We're returning to a regular posting schedule and look forward to informing you and being informed by your comments and emails.

Best, HA

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Modest Proposal

Slightly stale but interesting news: Michigan offers to take some of California's inmates.

California corrections officials are "intrigued" by this proposal, but no details yet . . . stay tuned. Thanks for the tip, Jerry Jarvis.