October 2011 Archives

"Prison Realignment:" The Time Has Arrived

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The long awaited realignment in California has begun. The state of California now transfers responsibility for specific categories of less serious criminal offenders to county jurisdictions rather than state prison. Let us hope that it goes smoothly. Perhaps other jurisdictions could then see a viable way to reduce overused prisons and return offenders to local jurisdictions where they may have a greater chance of successful reentry. It is clear that many other states (and the federal system) have serious crowding and other problems, but it appears that California leads the pack in the size, extent and severity of the problems. If we have learned anything in California, it is that history can repeat itself: using prisons as we have to solve the problems of crime is an extraordinarily costly use of scarce public money that is highly likely to fail.

The colossal California prison failure has taken a narrowly defined federal court order (one that had to go to the U.S. Supreme Court) to change, which coincides with a financially broke state that has no money for teachers, roads, health care, and the like. So it's about time. Some of the nearly ten billion dollars that goes to the state's prisons--over eleven percent of the state's budget--should be reduced by $1.5 billion.

Observers estimate that almost twenty-six thousand would-be prison inmates will do time in local jails now instead of prison, which one would expect would be closer to home, job, family and perhaps even rehabilitation or job training programs. There won't be the rapid and wasteful "churning" of parolees.

There is a lot of speculation about the effects of the realignment on local jail capacity, crime levels, and the like. An editorial by our local paper says that it is an "experiment" and a "gamble." Much of the discussion statewide mirrors that that surrounded of the probation subsidy program of decades past: "Will the money for all of these inmates materialize?" (When and exactly how much are reasonable questions); "Will crime levels increase?" (Hard to imagine they could ever be as high as the recidivism levels of released prisoners in California); Can we develop effective local programs to manage our own criminal offenders? (What a refreshing question. Local experience in Napa County suggests that local programs can provide beneficial employment training, drug testing and yet have substantially reduced recidivism levels.)

Let us hope that the experience with realignment will be carefully studied by researchers. We need ways of rationally assessing the consequences of our policy choices rather than allowing such things as politicians with simplistic crime control agendas, pundits, and high profile cases to guide policy decisions. The last thing we need is the hyperbolic thinking that got us into this enormous problem to begin with, like that supplied our own Republican State Senator (Runner) commenting on realignment:

"Now is the time for Californians to get a dog, buy a gun and install an alarm system. The state of California is no longer going to protect you."

The 2010 Census: Where Do Prisoners Live, Anyway?

Recently updated. Originally posted in April 2010.

Have you filled out the 2010 Census form yet? What does this have to do with crime and corrections? Quite a bit once you think about it.
"Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: A 50 state guide" is a very important look at where prisoners are counted as living for the purpose of the U.S. Census. Since residence defines where representation and resources are supposed to be apportioned, and with two million people locked up and prisoners counted as residents of the institutions (cities/states) where they are housed, it can give an unfair representative advantage to jurisdictions with prisons. As researchers note, "communities that bear the most direct costs of crime are also the communities that are the biggest victims of prison-based gerrymandering."

As these researchers and advocates for change note, states can change the way the Census counts are used for the allocation of representation and resources society.

More recently, the state of New York has changed its laws dealing with this issue. See the editorial in the New York Times.

Now Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation (AB 420) mandating that prisoners in California will be counted based on their residence at commitment, not in the prison that they happen to be housed in, beginning in 2020. California is the fourth state to do this.

Immigration Issues

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(Updated) Using criminal laws to manage a narrowly defined immigration "problem" is currently a hot topic. SSU faculty member Francisco Vasquez discusses the issue of the legal vs. ethical issues surrounding immigration in light of Arizona's new laws. He writes, for example, that "Politically, the issue of Mexican illegal immigration is the most exploited, useful and, historically, the principal political weapon for U.S. politicians every time there is an economic crisis." He raises a number of good points that can inform debate about immigration today.

Find Francisco's "GUEST OPINION: Standing up against an unethical Arizona law" at the local newspaper.

It is also worth noting that President Obama is frequently criticized for failing to enforce federal immigration laws. However, as more recently noted by TRAC,

"Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) show that during the first nine months of FY 2010, more non-US citizens were removed from the country than during any similar period in the Bush Administration....the first nine months of FY 2010...resulted in the removal of 279,035 individuals compared to 254,763 in the same nine month period during the final year of the Bush administration."

Should America unleash the private sector to solve our immigration problems? Even ardent private sector believers can't help but see the humor and truth in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon about capitalism in America. Project Censored looks at the role of private sector corrections in responding to the issues facing immigrants and the U.S. problems with immigration. Their observation differs from but seems to complement Francisco's. They note at this link that two private sector leaders in the privatization of prisons,

"CCA based in Nashville, Tennessee, and Geo Group, a global corporation based in Boca Raton, Florida, are the principal moving forces in the behind-the-scenes organization of the current wave of anti-immigrant legislative efforts."

For the latest data on federal law enforcement in the area of immigration take this link. The table below is taken from 2010 TRAC report. It shows how Arizona compares to the rest of the U.S.


Here is a web site on issues of immigration that looks at its human side. Enjoy!

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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