Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Goldberg: Realignment Works

I love the "freeways" analogy in today's excellent op-ed from former assemblymember Jackie Goldberg!

Viewpoints: Fear mongers were wrong about prison system's 'realignment'

Special to The Bee

Published Tuesday, May. 29, 2012

A year into Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to realign public safety, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has produced a vision of "The Future of California Corrections," whose plans, not surprisingly, are mirrored in the recent May revise budget. The plan is an attempt to overhaul and redirect a prison system that has been floundering for at least a decade, but it doesn't go far enough.

A year ago we heard fear-mongering voices warning of dangerous criminals being released and counties too broke to provide jail space, parole officers or programming for realigned prisoners.

One year in, how's realignment actually working out? The number of people held in state prison has dropped by more than 25,000 in 16 months since Brown has been in office. The count of people on parole is down almost 30,000, and the number of people held in private out-of-state prisons is down 10 percent; all that without a spike in crime.

The crime rate continues to fall and putting fewer people in state prisons means saving tax dollars, and given the $15.7 billion gap forecast in the May revise those savings have never been needed more than they are now. CDCR estimates that it is saving $1.5 billion a year through realignment and will save another $2.2 billion a year by canceling $4.1 billion in new construction projects.

As we see budgets slashed for In-Home Supportive Services, poor families being pushed out of child care and off Medi-Cal, and fewer high school graduates being able to afford to attend our public higher education system, we know where the money is needed.

Based on an encouraging first year, can we expect further parole and sentencing reforms resulting in even more reductions in corrections spending in the next few years? Unfortunately, some are making other plans.

Realignment is an idea that was floating around the Capitol when I arrived in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce deadly overcrowding in our prisons provided political cover for the meek and a political opportunity for the bold to turn around a bloated corrections system. So why is CDCR proposing to raise the population cap to 145 percent of capacity and build $810 million worth of new prison beds?

In my years in Sacramento, I saw that CDCR had developed a culture of construction. Got a problem? Build a new prison. As a Los Angeles native, I understood the culture of construction, familiar from decades of freeway building in Southern California. "Freeways crowded? Build more" was common sense for too long. Now we understand that new freeways will get crowded soon and that we need to invest in a culture and infrastructure of affordable public transit, and in housing people close to where they work.

Building more freeways wasn't the answer; it was the problem. We're just beginning to understand that about prisons and jails. Building all those prisons also meant borrowing billions – a big part of the wall of debt that Brown is trying to chip away at by cutting from health and human services, and education.

Fear of further expanding that debt has led the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office to recommend the Legislature consider closing prisons and act on alternatives to CDCR's plan to build more.
As the Legislature examines CDCR's "Future of California Corrections" and the governor's May revise budget, the question is whether the Legislature takes steps to complete the turn away from 30 years of disastrous corrections policies or blindly shifts overcrowding and jail expansion to our 58 counties. If the proposed $500 million for new or bigger jails makes it through the budget process, we'll know which direction our elected officials have chosen.

Corrections built prisons, but it was the Legislature that filled them with hundreds of laws that created new crimes and lengthened sentences. Serious sentencing and parole reforms are long overdue and communities, advocates, and other experts throughout the state have been providing ideas of where to start for decades.

An easy step could be to address the rapidly aging population by implementing a geriatric parole process, and expanding medical parole and compassionate release. Other options include passing legislation to decriminalize drug possession, or supporting the initiative to reform the "three strikes" law on the November ballot. We need only the political will to move away from sentencing and parole policies that have done more to bankrupt our state treasury than to secure safety in our neighborhoods.

Do we return to the course of expanding prisons and jails and expanding the percentage of our resources that go to filling them? Or do we take realignment as only a first step toward further downsizing, offering us the opportunity to use tax funds to invest in the well being of our residents now and in the future? I advocate for the latter.

Jackie Goldberg, a former Assembly member from Los Angeles, served on the Public Safety Committee.



Friday, May 18, 2012

Join us at our benefit concert for SAFE California! 
Saturday, May 26, 8pm
Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Take Action to STOP wasteful prison & jail construction!

From Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB):


Stop California
from Wasting Hundreds of Millions 
on New Prison & Jail Beds

We need you to take action today to stop new funding for prison and jail beds throughout the state.

This Monday, the Governor released his May Revise of the budget with a Corrections section that almost exactly matches the CDCR master plan released April 23rd.  For detail on the plans, check out our press release on the May Revise, and our one page response to the CDCR Future of California Corrections Plan.

In the May Revise the Governor slashes billions from healthcare, housing, education, parks, childcare, workers and all the social services our communities depend on while funding massive prison and jail expansion plans: in this case $500 million for expanded jails and $810 million for more prison beds.

We can’t all make it to Sacramento this week, but we can make our voices heard loud and clear. Budget hearings on Public Safety start today, so we must act immediately to influence these decisions.

Here are 3 ways we need you to get involved:

1.    Call and Email the Senate and Assembly Public Safety Subcommittee Members on the Budget

If you are a constituent, be sure to mention that first.  Each call should take less than a minute, but if you’ve only got time for a few, prioritize your representative(s), then the committee and budget chairs (in RED below).   Here’s what to say when you call:

Hi, My Name is ______________ and (I am a constituent of ______________ and) I am calling to urge Senator/Assemblyperson ______________ to say no to $500 million for jail construction and $810 million for new prison beds in the Governor’s Budget.  It is shameful that the CDCR continues to ask for more money to expand the prison system while we are drastically cutting funds for Health and Human Services and Education. I am asking the Senator/Assemblyperson to support budget policy that builds strong communities, not prisons and jails.  We need a prison and jail moratorium now. 

Lois Wolk San Joaquin and Sacramento Counties (916) 651-4005
Joel Anderson San Diego and Riverside Counties (916) 651-4036
Loni Hancock - Chair Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Castro Valley, Dublin, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Livermore, Oakland, Piedmont, Richmond, and San Pablo. (916) 651-4009
Mark Leno - Chair of Sen Budget Marin and portions of San Francisco and Sonoma Counties. (916) 651-4003
Gilbert Cedillo - Chair Los Angeles, Alhambra, Maywood, San Marino, Vernon, and South Pasadena. (916) 319-2045
Luis A. Alejo San Benito County, the Salinas Valley, North Monterey County, South Santa Clara County and the city of Watsonville. (916) 319-2028
Mike Feuer Los Feliz to West Los Angeles, including Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, San Fernando Valley, Sherman Oaks to Universal City. (916) 319-2042
Diane L. Harkey Aliso Viejo, Dana Point , Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Oceanside, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano (916) 319-2073
Mike Morrell Fontana, Grand Terrace, Highland, Loma Linda, Moreno Valley, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Riverside, San Bernardino, Upland, Yucaipa (916) 319-2064
Bob Blumenfield - Chair of Assem Budget San Fernando Valley (916) 319-2040

To send an email click on the Legislators name above and you can also add:

·      The impacts that prisons, jails, and budget cuts have had on you and your community

·      Encouraging counties to expand jails when they could take simple, safe steps to reduce their jail populations is following 30 years of failed state policy.  Realignment was meant to reduce prison overcrowding by reducing the population, not by transferring the problem to the counties.  Funds should be sent to counties to fund community services, not build more cages.

·      Similarly, you could avoid $810 million of construction costs and the millions of dollars of debt and operating costs to come if you implement common sense reforms that have been successfully implemented in other states, such as geriatric and medical parole, restorative justice, compassionate release, and drug reform.  Why would we spend more than a billion dollars to build prison hospital beds for infirm and elderly people while we are cutting more than a billion dollars for health services in our communities?

·      California needs from our elected officials to implement commen sense parole and sentencing reform policies that will continue to lower the prison population and the CDCR budget.

2.    Spread the Word
Forward this email, share this link on your Facebook wall and your friend’s walls, and repost from our Twitter!
3.    Attend a Budget Hearing in Sacramento and Speak to These Issues

If you will be or can be in Sacramento in the next two weeks, come testify at the budget hearings. We can provide you with talking points and other support. Get in contact with Emily at emily@curbprisonspending.org

Senate Sub 5 Hearings on Corrections & Public Safety

Thursday, May 17th - 9:30am in Room 113

Tuesday, May 22nd - 1:30pm in Room 113

Stop the cages. Stop the Cuts. We need a Budget for Humanity.

In Solidarity,

Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator for CURB

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cuddling or Coddling?

Photo courtesy Rick Bowmer for the Associated Press.
An interesting little story in yesterday's Chron describes a jail in Washington State in which inmates are entrusted with the care of cats. 

Contreras and his cellmate, after passing the screening process, are two of the four inmates in the "Cuddly Catz" program at Larch Correctional Facility in Yacolt. "

Nobody was wanting to adopt her," Contreras said. "We got her and it's been awesome ever since." 

It wasn't awesome at the outset. She came as advertised, Contreras said — moody, dysfunctional and prone to violence. But the changes in his newest cellmate are evident. 

 She can now be petted, brushed and even held for a few minutes. She still growls but rarely hisses. She has a scratching post and perch that takes up a healthy chunk of the 12 foot-by-10 foot cell. Contreras and his cellmate care for her in shifts. 

The debate about evidence-based programming in prison is heated because programs require resources, but this seems to be a fairly cheap program to administer. All it takes is cat food, litter boxes, and the occasional vet visit; not an insurmountable expense. This could be something to think about in California, too, post-realignment.

The comments on the article seem fairly benign so far, but I can imagine some readers thinking that allowing inmates to keep pets is unnecessary coddling. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Price of Partisanism and the End of Public Debate

Dear readers - this post is more of a personal reflection than a news item. I hope you will forgive the indulgence.

As you know, I'm in the process of putting together a benefit concert for SAFE California. I posted a link to the event page on Facebook, and invited everyone I could think of who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hesitated to invite folks who disagreed with the message, but figured that I would be inclusive in the invitations and allow people to make up their own minds as to whom they would like to support.

A Facebook friend who is a former student declined the invitation and posted the following, verbatim:

"I would rather perform a labotomy [sic] on myself with a rusty butter knife than support this idiotic cause."

After the initial personal shock - I think highly of my former student and our interactions in school had always been respectful despite our deep disagreements about criminal justice policy - I started thinking a bit about the pros and cons of framing issues through the broad, but shallow, prism of cost.

What the death penalty debate was in the European Enlightenment era - and should have been here - was a debate about the limited powers of the state, about proportionality in punishment, about retributivist and utilitarian punitive goals. We could fundamentally disagree on those perspectives, but all opinions could be heard and respected, and we would have a deep understanding of where our disagreements lay. I might not be a believer in retributivism, and I might think that many victims just suffer more through the capital punishment appellate process, but I understand why people value retributivism on a philosophical level, and I also understand that some victims do feel closure after the person who murdered their loved ones is executed. I still think the death penalty is rotten policy that has no place in modern life in its present form, but I don't think that those who disagree with me are out of their minds.[1] Nor do I think we're nearly done with that aspect of the debate.

In some ways, shifting the debate to issues of cost and technologies ameliorates these fundamental disagreements about the moral and ethical aspects. We don't have to talk about human rights or retribution or victims' feelings, because we can talk about money.

But money doesn't make those big issues go away. It just buries them deep underground, so we can avoid discussing the real issues. And so, we lose our practice in respectfully debating our positions, our civil discourse muscles atrophy, and when we do lash out - usually on the Internet, because we're oh-so-polite race to face - the rudeness and disrespect are overwhelming.

I understand the power of the fiscal argument. After all, I'm writing a book about the power of the fiscal argument and the immense systemic transformation it is already generating. It can convince conservative folks who believe in fiscal prudence to swing back the punitive pendulum, and it has already convinced many. But I think it's an open question whether we're paying a dear price for it. We're giving up the opportunity to have a serious, thorough public debate about a fundamental moral question, and by doing so, we're keeping, and perhaps deepening, our resentment and possibly hatred of our fellow Californians (those behind bars and those who disagree with us, regardless of where we stand.)

Perhaps the money argument isn't as shallow as it seems. American independence started off with a quibble about empowerment and representation, but it was framed as a tax debate. We often use money as a proxy for values; as in, how much we are willing to spend on various causes and services represents how we feel about the order of social priorities. In that respect, attending a fundraiser for a cause is a proxy for supporting that cause. The problem is, though, that it isn't the same. While money indicates our support of a cause, discussions of money don't explain why we support it. We are impoverished in intangible way by creating a shallow discourse to appeal to the heart of the consensus. And in the process, we relegate our interactions with our fellow human beings to two categories: Either we agree on superficial issues that we don't care about. or we're at each other's throats without respect or dignity over things we do care about.

I would like to live in a world in which I can have immense disagreements with others and argue with them passionately while not losing sight of the humanity and dignity of the other party to the conversation, and I know that my former student (who graciously apologized after I pointed out that we could disagree without being rude) would like to live in that world as well. And I want that world to exist outside my classroom (which is a small start.).

What do you think? Which of the other party's arguments in the death penalty debate are you willing to respect, if not agree with?

[1] There are some debates - very few, for me - in which I can see no merit whatsoever to the other party's position. Same sex marriage is a good example. But the death penalty does not fall into that category for me.