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Significant Issues in Criminal Justice: California

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An exerpt from our department newsletter, CCJS News:

California has become a leader in the passage of laws and the implementation of policies that are a harbinger of change in other states and the federal system. While the merits of this are hotly debated, crime and its control are among the most contentious issues in politics and each year there are many issues that capture public and lawmaker attention. The following are certainly among the many important ones being discussed today.

Gun Control
Certainly one of the most significant national discussions relating to criminology and criminal justice has been the issue of gun control in the wake of mass killings in Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere and the recognition that death from weapons, accidental (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/us/kentucky-boy-5-kills-sister-2.html?_r=0) and otherwise, is significant in American society.

Overall the discussion revealed the powerful role of money, lobbyists and the NRA in lawmakers' decisions to refuse to support any federal legislation. California continues to maintain its position as one of the leading states with controls on access
to high power weaponry and (most recently) appropriations for enforcing existing laws prohibiting certain categories from having weapons, but New York, Connecticut and Colorado have also passed significant legislation in the past few months. Amazingly, with overwhelming U.S. citizen support support for universal background checks on weapons purchasers, the attempt to even debate the issue was stopped in the Senate by mostly Republican opposition. There is no surprise that unfavorable public opinion of Congress is now at the lowest point it has ever been measured by pollsters (see PEW 2013 at http://goo.gl/jnLYy). Perhaps the move for concerned citizens today will be toward citizen initiatives where these are allowed (see, e.g., this discussion).

Realignment
One of the biggest changes being felt at both the state and local levels is realignment, which is a direct result of the court ordered transfer of inmates from state prisons in California to county jurisdiction. There is a great deal of discussion about, monitoring of and related information about realignment underway in California.

The general issues posed by realignment are provided in the most recent issue of the Western Criminology Review at http://wcr.sonoma.edu/. The latest updating on the monitoring of realignment is available through the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which is directed by SSU's Dan MacAllair, at http://www.cjcj.org/files/Realignment_update_Aug_15_2012.pdf. There is wide-ranging discussion about the topic at city, county and state levels (e.g., see the Public Policy Institute Report at http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_812MLR.pdf; KQED's examination at http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201208220900; and the California Report at http://www.californiareport.org/specialcoverage/prisons/).

Gay Marriage
The 9th Circuit Court struck down Prop. 8, which limits marriage to a man and a woman. This case has since been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and oral arguments took place in March on it and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. There is considerable speculation about why the court took the California case and also how the high court could rule in June, see, e.g., http://goo.gl/cYItW.

California Spending More On Prisons Than Colleges, Report Says

As mentioned before on this site, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, California spends much more today than it has on past on prisons than colleges. Here is the latest news article on this topic:

California Spending More On Prisons Than Colleges, Report Says. For example, "Over the past three decades, the number of inmates in California facilities has increased eight times faster than size of the overall population."

Prison Break

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The California Report's Prison Break is worth visiting. They have put together a video and three articles on realignment:

  • Were Counties Prepared for Flood of Inmates Under Realignment?
  • Prison Costs Should Drop With Realignment
  • LA Uses Realignment Funds for Re-Entry and Mental Health Programs
  • Television Special Preview

After an extended debate, much of which was uninformed or intentionally mis-informed by critics, the Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion.

This is an important moment in the U.S. history, a filling in of an area of citizen welfare that other advanced industrial nations (and others that aren't) figured out long ago. It is absolutely amazing and grotesque that Republicans in Congress are so bitterly opposed to what their own citizens want and need.

Of course this law has direct implications for the criminal justice system, for persons under arrest and in the care and keeping of the criminal justice system. Locally, health professionals have already noted its importance.

Over time we will see far greater impact as the law is fully implemented by 2014. The field of criminal justice is highly sensitive to changes in the health care system--adequate medical care is one of the best crime prevention policies around. As the long history of the criminal justice system attests, when people lack any or adequate health care, their problems multiply and this can easily put them at risk of falling into the hands of the criminal justice system--leaving criminal justice personnel with the task of providing a short-term solution to a community problem. This is most obvious in the case of substance abuse treatment and mental illness but also in a great many other situations.

Update:
since this entry was originally written, The Affordable Care Act: Implications for Public Safety and Corrections Populations, has been published, which breaks down some of the ways the Affordable Care Act will reduce crime and/or recidivism.

For the moment this is a time to rejoice and celebrate a new and long-needed chapter in the uneven progress of improved quality of life for Americans.

Registry of Exonerations

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A common experience in teaching criminology, punishment and corrections is a denial that wrongful conviction ever occurs, or that if it does the individual in question had punishment coming anyway, or that when there seems to be an instance occurring it actually means that criminals are being let off for trivial technicalities. What do you do in these circumstances? The easy way is to accept the status quo--people who accept Fox television will believe what they see: that criminals are criminals and appeals should be abolished or severely limited.

As teachers, however, your goal is, among other things, to present facts openly and honestly, allowing students to see for themselves what evidence exists for the assertion that people are wrongfully convicted and how it is that they actually do spend lengthy periods of time in prison for crimes they did not commit. If only you had examples, students could readily see for themselves how and why it happens, how humans who participate in the process (prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses to crime, jailhouse snitches, aggressive interrogators, etc.) make mistakes, serious errors in judgement, lie or bend the truth, and how the entire system of criminal justice becomes a part of problem that needs to be fixed. Some obvious questions are "Where can you find data that impartially describes such cases?" "How many are there?" "Are they isolated instances or indicators of a systemic problem?" And so on.

Recently the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and the Michigan Law School created and are updating a Registry of known U.S. exonerations since 1989. "Exoneration" means people are freed from prison who have been wrongfully convicted. You can go there and read the lives of people who have experienced this.

Reading these cases is an eye-opening experience. What you learn first of all is that the kinds of cases leading to exoneration is very narrow--people convicted of serious crimes for whom there is a particular kind of evidence that lends itself to judicial review. This is not a criticism; it simply means that many peoples' claims that they are innocent are ignored. You have to wonder how many cases there really are involving false conviction. Immediately you have to question how it happens so frequently. So many defendants (especially those with incompetent legal counsel) are faced with the horrific choice of either pleading guilty to a crime they did not commit for a short sentence or going to trial and facing extremely long sentences if they are found guilty; what kind of a choice is that? Along with that you learn that attorney incompetence is rampant, that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, that jailhouse snitches are often used in generating evidence to define guilt or culpability, that exculpatory evidence is overlooked or ignored by prosecutors, that forensic evidence is improperly used, inappropriately assessed, or ignored, along with many other issues.

As you look at these cases and see prosecutors making motion after motion after motion to dismiss the conviction charges that led to exoneration, you see crystal clear evidence that serious mistakes happen, again and again and again. In these days of mass incarceration, mandatory minimum terms, and widespread public belief that conviction and imprisonment are the solution to the crime problem, this is a useful site that points out the serious anomalies involved in using the existing criminal justice machinery to effect justice.

"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.

Justice: Criminal Justice Through Art

This ebook, Justice (pdf), was made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation, Columbia University, and Penland School of Crafts.

Justice

U.S. Supreme Court upholds release of California inmates

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Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in upholding the previously ordered release of California inmates from CDCR. California's prisons, designed to hold 80,000 inmates, have been holding more than double that for decades. In response to a long period of attempted federal intervention and a prior three judge federal court finding (subsequently appealed) that mental and medical care needs of inmates could not be met unless population size is reduced, the high court's 5-4 decision finally concludes the case.

This is big news. Supposedly population will be reduced to about 137 percent of capacity. Exactly how and when this will be accomplished has yet to be seen but supposedly it will happen within two years. Inmates will hopefully receive better care rather than cruel and unusual punishment.

And now California can re-embark on a new era of community based corrections rather than having such an extraordinarily heavy reliance on the extremely expensive system of incarceration. I say re-embark because we have successfully gone down this path before--in the 60's and early 70's through probation subsidy and in the 80's through the Blue Ribbon Commission's community supervision act proposal. There have been more recent proposals as well. Jeanne Woodford and Barry Krisberg note in their Op-Ed piece ("Don't fear the prison decision") that California will not be freeing dangerous offenders to meet mandate and that other states have recently reduced their incarceration levels maintaining public safety.

Hopefully, decreased commitments and shorter terms will also lead to reduced reliance on parole supervision as well. California has been criticized heavily for paroling everyone even though not everyone "needs" it. Some have argued that the system of supervision itself should be done away with, but a significant response has been that even if that's true, there has to be a release valve from prison. Perhaps for the moment there is a greater need for flexibility to get or keep people out of prison.

The high court's finding could also not have come at a better time--over the past 30 years California's prison budget has more than tripled to over 9 billion dollars while the state's services have been severely crippled. The horrific budget deficit that threatens massive layoffs at local levels, closure of public parks, retraction of higher education and huge increases in tuition/fees, might be mitigated by the proper reduction of money to the prison system. Whether that can happen has yet to be seen.

Relief ordered, at last! Download the opinion at this link.

America's prison failure

On Dec. 6 the New York Times published an opinion piece worthy of note. In response to the California prison conditions case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Schwarzenegger v. Plata. Federal oversight of California's broken system determined that population must be reduced by forty thousand inmates to provide adequate, but minimal, health care to inmates, who die routinely as a direct result of the the poor quality of care and a failure of the prison to respond to court orders issues to prevent these problems over the past couple of decades.

The editorial concludes: "America's prison system is now studied largely because of its failure -- the result of an expensive approach to criminal justice shaped by fear-driven ideology. California's prisons embody this overwhelming failure."

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

In these times of potential social change it is useful for students and teachers to read the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in light of their criminal justice systems. This provides a useful example for comparison to the U.S.

Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment

PEW's just released study, National Research of Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment, is must reading for people concerned with correctional reform in the U.S.

The study shows that voters want citizens and communities safe and want offenders to be accountable. In addition: "Voters believe a strong public safety system is possible while reducing the size and cost of the prison system."

The findings detail how much people are willing to release offenders from prison, the high priority they place on funding education over prisons, and how important people view preparing people who are released from prison (since 95% are) to become productive members of society.

Do the PEW findings apply to California? Some data suggests that the answer is yes. For example, the table below is derived from a random sample of Californians as of January, 2010 collected by the PPIC. It shows support for cutting various state agencies in California to reduce the deficit. The data show that nearly 70% of the California public supports cutting prison budgets to reduce the deficit. The public is, however, strongly opposed to cutting budgets in education and health and human services to reduce the deficit.

prison_educ_budget.jpg

In an update of an earlier report at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, The California Miracle: Drastically Reduced Youth Incarceration, Drastically Reduced Youth Crime, authors Mike Males and Daniel Macallair examine whether adult and juvenile crime rates have changed in California as the incarceration of juveniles has dramatically declined. For the record, in the past thirty years the rate of incarceration for juveniles has declined by eighty percent. The answer (relax conservatives, don't sweat it politicians, take heart progressives): decarcerating juveniles has been a very good thing. As incarceration has decreased, crime among juveniles has decreased. For example, from 1980 to 2009, the felony crime rate among juveniles dropped sixty percent.

The study also compares the juvenile and adult experiences and looks at particular counties that have widely varying rates of incarceration.

This is an important reading in a state with staggering budget deficits and an over reliance on incarceration as a solution to crime problems. Criminologists will appreciate how the study directly addresses the meaning and implications of the results for incapacitation theory. These kind of results do not bolster SuperCell's reputation.

Congress has done the right thing

Today the House passed legislation that will greatly decrease the wide disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine sentences. It will also repeal the five year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. This comes on the heels of the Senate vote. The legislation now goes to the President. The issue of whether the changes will be applied retroactively is unknown.

This was bipartisan legislation, although one has to wonder whether it could ever have happened had Democrats not had the upper hand. It's the first repeal of a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the days of the Nixon administration. Various groups, including the Sentencing Project and FAMM have argued strenuously for reform of the laws.

Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought

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During the early 1970's in California Ronald Reagan decided to deinstitutionalize persons with mental illnesses. With legislative support that's what happened, and it was supposed to be somehow replaced with some kind of community care system and psychotropic drugs that somehow never fully materialized. Over the years many commentators and researchers have noticed the increased presence of persons with varied mental illnesses or dual diagnoses in prisons and jails.

The Treatment Advocacy Center's latest nationwide study on the mentally ill in confinement notes:

"In historical perspective, we have returned to the early nineteenth century, when mentally ill persons filled our jails and prisons. At that time, a reform movement, sparked by Dorothea Dix, led to a more humane treatment of mentally ill persons. For over a hundred years, mentally ill individuals were treated in hospitals. We have now returned to the conditions of the 1840s by putting large numbers of mentally ill persons back into jails and prisons" (emphasis in original).

Have you been to a local jail lately and checked out how many persons identified as having mental illnesses are there and how many of them are walking around with shackles? It's upsetting to behold, but when you put people in a jail and they don't behave, you do what jailers do. A sad part of this is that there are no bandaid, panacea solutions. Over 30% of women inmates, and a little over half of male inmates, have serious mental health problems, and Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca can say with authority, "I run the biggest mental hospital in the country" (cited in the above study, p. 4).

Clearly U.S. priorities and California's in particular are to criminalize problems that belong elsewhere. Criminal justice incarceration, here in the form of local jails, is one of the most inappropriate, expensive and least effective solutions around. The above study suggests that states with the greatest spending on hospitals for the mentally ill spend the least money on mentally ill inmates in prisons and jails. Moreover, mentally ill inmates cost a great deal more to manage than other inmates--and they stay longer (not surprisingly, many have trouble following institutional rules! After all, it is a place of punishment in form if not intent.).

This is one of those areas of criminal justice where it is very clear the form of our structured response to people in trouble (jail and shackles for the mentally ill) is inappropriate. Our society--through our leaders--has put all its money into a criminal justice solution to everything: we're now governing through crime, to use the title of Jonathan Simon's book, Governing Through Crime, a vital way of thinking about the mass incarceration response to crime today.

How can we get out of this mess? It seems advisable to decarcerate the mentally ill with soundly planned and executed community based alternatives designed to keep them out of jails and prisons and which do not infringe on their civil liberties. There are programs that work to do that. Mental health courts appear to have promise, as may other alternatives suggested in the report. The non-help, non-system, let them eat cake solution of Ronald Reagan doesn't work and the current policy of incarceration doesn't work. Moreover, in today's world, throwing psychiatrists at them will do little more than lead to drugs: in today's world, psychiatrists have moved away from talk therapy. (See Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy.) Instead, it's all about drugs and more drugs.

Today it appears that jails and prisons have become for the mentally ill what the juvenile court was in the early 1960's to juveniles having minor run-ins with the police: a solution of first resort. Edwin Lemert's angrily toned (and lengthy) report, Instead of Court: Diversion from Juvenile Justice, drew attention to the overreach of the juvenile justice system and suggested the importance of finding alternatives to formal processing. Since that time diversion programs, which have their own issues, have flourished and many states have decarcerated or completed closed their youth training schools (prisons for young offenders). The important lesson from research on these states' experiences is that with careful planning it is possible to decarcerate young offenders--as California has been doing--without increasing public risk and while providing people with the services and assistance to make them self-sufficient adults. Perhaps similar things can be done with mentally ill persons along lines suggested in the Treatment Advocacy Center report.

Supreme Court Limits LWOPs for Juveniles

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, in Graham v. Florida (08-7412.pdf), on the question of whether juveniles can be given life without parole sentences. In a case decided today the court ruled that juveniles can not be given such sentences unless convicted of homicide. The 5-4 decision is remarkable because of the minority opinion of Scalia, Thomas and Alito.

Collateral Effects of Mass Incarceration: the (non)Right to Vote

The loss of the right to vote because of a felony conviction under a de facto policy of mass incarceration in the U.S. means--translated into practice--that one-third of black men in Alabama can no longer vote. That is unbelievable. More will be added each year in that state and elsewhere as we continued to lock up massive numbers of inmates who are disproportionately represented by minorities and the poor. The NAACP has just completed a report on the general topic, "Free the Vote: Unlocking Democracy in the Cells and on the Streets." This is worth a close read and discussion. The question of whether disenfranchisement is inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act is an interesting one. See the recent opinion by Linda Greenhouse in "Voting Behind Bars."

1 in 31

PEW Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides the latest look at the reach of corrections in the United States. It documents the unprecedented growth in and costs of the increases in community and institutional corrections and points as well to ways out of the mess that we're in.

From 1 in 31:
prison_growth.jpg

For some updated statistics see this study from the Correctional Research Service.

California Carefully Opens Its Prison Doors

Today's New York Times' article, "California, in Financial Crisis, Opens Prison Doors," is an evenly worded statement of where the country is headed. Although no other state can match our seventy percent parole failure rate, perhaps they will want to follow California's lead and reduce inmate populations. As the Golden State hemorrhages from scarce resources, the lost opportunities due to the enormous amount of money given to its highly ineffective prisons is finally coming to the foreground. The CCPOA (guard's union) has backed off its pressure to keep the prison filled and growing and CDCR is being forced to do what it should have done decades ago: cautiously letting low risk inmates out without serious parole supervision and even trying to provide inmates the services they need to transition to society.

Governor Schwarzenegger might leave office with some dignity if he follows through with attempts to put more money into education than prisons.

Prevention Not Prison

Thanks to Rick L. for forwarding this op-ed link:

Prevent criminal activity, spend less on prisons

Federal Oversight and legislators who don't get it

Federal oversight of California's prison system calls for reduction of prison population in the next two years. We have the means to do it, along with the support of democratic legislators and the governor. Now the only roadblock is republicans, who are continuing to use the 'tough on crime' rhetoric to prevent California from doing what needs to happen: cutting sentences short for nonviolent offenders, reducing or eliminating parole for the low risk offenders, as other states already do, and using other reasonable means to reduce the number of prison inmates.

While the state is actively cutting programs and assistance to people with demonstrable needs--e.g., huge cuts to education, assistants for the disabled, etc.--to feed the extraordinary costly and ineffective system of corrections, republicans are truly demonstrating how much they are completely out of touch with the reality of California.

The state of California of course appealed the three judge panel's decision, which is now in the U.S. Supreme Court. We should be hearing about their decision shortly.

The Chancellor Has Seen the Light

The Chancellor of the CSU system finally gets it. How long has this taken?

"During the budget debate, it became clear to me that something unthinkable has happened in California: Our fiscal meltdown has so distorted our legislative priorities that we are now a state that places a higher priority on prison than on higher education.

"Last week, at the same time that the California State University's Board of Trustees was approving drastic measures to manage unprecedented budget cuts, a tentative budget deal in the Legislature was unraveling because of outrage over cuts to California's prison budget. How could the message to California students have been any clearer? You can cut higher education to the bone and you won't hear a single statement of remorse from the Legislature, but start cutting into the prison budget and you'll hear howls of protest from the Capitol."

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/07/27/ED3018UPP1.DTL#ixzz0MZssDtRf

Build a Prison in Small Town America? You Bet!

Read Eric Williams' opinion, "To get more, they need Gitmo," in the L.A. Times. He writes:

"I have been studying the issue of prisons in rural towns across the U.S. since 2003 and have found that small towns have no problem with housing inmates, no matter how dangerous society considers the inmates to be."

Judges Order Release of Inmates

Feb 9, 2009 4:40 pm
US/Pacific Judges Order Release Of Thousands Of Inmates SAN FRANCISCO (AP)

A special panel of federal judges tentatively ruled Monday that California must release tens of thousands of inmates to relieve overcrowding. The judges said no other solution will improve conditions so poor that inmates die regularly of suicides or lack of proper care.

Since this time, Attorney General Brown has appealed the ruling. See "Brown Calls on Court to Terminate Prison Receivership" on YouTube.

Health Care of Prisoners

The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: A Nation wide Survey, from the American Journal of Public Health, is the first study of prison and jail inmates health across the country. Not surprisingly, it shows high levels of serious illness and little available health care. The data were analyzed by researchers from Cambridge and Harvard for 2002 and 2004. Of the two million inmates, around forty percent (40%) report a chronic medical problem like asthma, diabetes, or ongoing heart or kidney problems. Their illness rate is thus much higher than free citizens of a similar age. A fifth of state prison inmates had not seen a doctor or nurse since being locked up; fully sixty-eight percent (68%) of sick jail inmates had not gotten nurse or doctor attention.

The problems of mentally ill offenders are equally sad, but incarceration appears to coincide with the pattern of existing mentally ill persons not receiving care to get something after incarceration. See the more recent post, "Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought."

These findings are disturbing but not surprising and serve as baseline information for development of public policy to address these issues.

Will CDCR be Received?

The Universe is waiting. Will CDCR go into receivership? The trial is on but not being televised. Hold on to your seats while the experts offer opinions about whether CDCR is capable of managing its own affairs. See "Corrections chiefs: Calif. prisons unmanageable."

The overcrowding numbers that have been used to drive the growth of prison and its supporting structure are now being used to attack the very legitimacy of self-governance. There's a nice quote in the above newspaper article from Jeanne Woodford, SSU's former alumni of the year and former warden of San Quentin: "We just passed an initiative that gives chickens appropriate living space, and yet we permit conditions like this," referring to a makeshift dorm at CRC.

Maryland Death Penalty Costs

Many students are shocked when they learn how much it costs to adjudicate someone charged with a capital crime. How much is it? How much is it when the prosecution wins vs. when they lose?

Numerous studies have attempted to specify the costs of adjudicating capital cases and, as the General Accounting Office noted many years ago, research usually underestimates it. The latest study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, entitled, "The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland" is probably no different but it does provide current data on Maryland's death penalty costs from 1978-99. The lifetime cost of sentencing someone to death averaged three million dollars, $1.7 millon of which is for adjudication costs and $1.3 millon for prison costs. This is nearly three times the cost of not selecting a capital eligible case for the death penalty. See the Urban Institutes abstract at http://www.urban.org/publications/411625.html.

1 in 100 citizens incarcerated

The latest PEW report made the headlines around the country as the U.S. became the first nation in the world to lock up 1 out of every 100 citizens. Even someone from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, could see that we are locking up too many people.

There is also an interview with the manager of the PEW Center for the States in the Washington Post.

This report, and the attention it has generated, reveals both the serious financial and social implications mass imprisonment has had on the U.S. and the utter stupidity and emptiness of arguments for a continued policy of mass incarceration.

This is, however, old news for us Californians. We've had a rate of incarceration over 100 since around 1988. See the basic data at the Attorney General's web site.

Sexual Victimization of Prison Inmates

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 mandated a self-report survey of prison inmates to determine the nature and extent of sexual victimization in prisons. The first wave of research has been done and a report has been issued: Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007.

There are numerous findings of interest but only two are reported here: the percent of inmates in prison who have been victimized nationwide and in the California prisons sampled, and the nature of such victimization. Table 4 shows the percent of adult inmates victimized. The "Total" is for the U.S. as a whole. About 2.1% of prison inmates experienced an instance of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization while 2.9% experienced staff-on-inmate victimization.

Click for Table 4

Table 6 shows the level of coercion involved for incidents reported in Table 4. The "Total" is for the U.S. as a whole. A partial glimpse of the problem of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization is revealed in these data.

Click for Table 6

For the definition of terms see the report.

New Jersey & the Death Penalty

New Jersey took the simple step of responding to the voluminous and weighty objections to the death penalty by repealing the sentence of death on Monday, Dec. 17th, 2008. The Governor declared it an end to "state-endorsed killing." They converted sentences of condemned inmates to life without possibility of parole.

In light of the fact that California politicians think it is political suicide to consider taking such an action, note this:

  • there is no grass roots effort underway to recall politicians in New Jersey
  • There is no call for the Governor's resignation
  • There is no strike by prosecutors, police or corrections officers who feel the death penalty is the answer to the crime problem
  • There is relief that the state will not have to worry about executing inmates who have an unacceptably high likelihood of being found factually innocent of the crime that they have been convicted of; nationwide, 2% of convicted defendants who are sentenced to death eventually have their sentences reduced or are exonerated
  • There is little or no controversy about New Jersey's decision to abolish capital punishment.
  • California, and the Pacific region, have much to learn from this experience.

    Is New Jersey a bellwether state? I may well be. It is the first in a generation to abolish the death penalty. There certainly is vocal opposition to the death penalty as such and many judicial systems are crippled by the controversy. Studies continuously show that the death penalty costs more to implement than life without parole, that it does not act as a deterrent (the U.S. has high homicide rates in states with capital punishment), that the U.S. is distinguished by being the only Western democracy in the world that still retains the punishment, and that public opinion--when measured appropriately--is moving toward abolition.

    Tennesee Private Prison Sales Video

    Here's a news story about a video that was made to entice California inmates to transfer to an out-of-state prison. The facility--West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason--is owned and operated by private industry: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

    Here is a link to the video. And here is a quote from the beginning of the article. We haven't heard about this video being played very recently since a court order put a stop the transfer. There is, however, much to learn from this.

    Thousands of California inmates are getting a daily pitch on the finer side of what prison life could be like in Tennessee.

    The video they're watching touts a private Tennessee prison's larger and cleaner jail cells; 79 TV channels, including ESPN; views of peaceful cow pastures; and inmates in the "Dorm of the Week," staying up all night, watching a movie and eating cheeseburgers or pizza.

    The video's stars are some of the 80 California inmates who transferred to Corrections Corporation of America's West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason last fall in what was the Golden State's first export of prisoners to ease overcrowding. Their taped testimonials are being used in an attempt to entice some of their former jail mates to follow them to the promised land of prisons.

    Does this presage California's future of managing inmates--trolling for 'volunteers' by wagging the promised land in front of them through a sales video? Does it reflect how we will deal with the ethical, legal and related issues raised in proposals to transfer inmates far, far away from their families and communities to which they will eventually be returned? Initially this video was shown over the prison network for California inmates. You have to ask yourself, can inmates make a free or voluntary choice on this issue that is in their best long-term interest when they are experiencing the conditions of confinement that they do in California's prisons? Is inmate transfer a rational public policy when recidivism levels are at such high levels and California's re-entry process is in such sorry shape?

    Letter from a mom in prison

    This semester one of my classes read Sue Stauffacher's book, Harry Sue, to learn what young adults (and others) are reading about children whose parents are incarcerated. The book is written from the perspective of an eleven year old girl, who develops a world of prison in her daily life. The book provides insights into what young people are learning about imprisonment other than what they consume through mass media, especially television.

    In a separate venue, and available in pdf at fcnetwork.org through this link, here is a letter written by an imprisoned mom to her children:

    My dearest, my precious, my beautiful daughters,

    Hello sweethearts. Yes, it's me, I'm still alive, even though the break in my heart branches out and tears holes in my soul each and every day. Every second since the last time I saw my two beautiful daughters has been filled with agony. You are both loved beyond description. There truly is no possible way to put into words how very precious you both are to me. I know the both of you know deep in your soul how much I love you!!

    I am so mad at myself, in fact, at times I hate myself for letting you down. I didn't walk away from you. I was shoved away long before either of you were ever born by becoming a drug addict.

    On the days you were born, I held you up and looked directly into your eyes and swore with every fiber of my being that I would always love you and be there for you. And to always protect you, to see to it that you would never hate me for one iota of a second the way I hated my mother and father for all the mean nasty things they did to me, and the way they made me feel worthless. I would always try my hardest to make you both know how beautiful, special, sweet and awesome, smart and wonderful you are.

    I know a lot of people tried to make you believe that you two didn't mean as much to me as drugs. They were so wrong. Please don't believe that. I did drugs to keep from hurting deep inside my heart. And I've come to realize drugs don't make it better. It only stops the pain for a minute, then it comes flying back at you, twice as hard.

    Both of you meant everything and still mean everything to me. God gave me the opportunity, the beautiful moment, to be your mom. Not just your mother. Any woman can be a mother. But it takes love to be a mom. And I love you with every fiber of my being.

    Please don't think for a fraction of a second that it's your fault or that I didn't want you. Because that is not true. It was the drugs. I didn't do drugs, baby girls, they did me! And since you have been gone, not one day has passed that I didn't think of you, miss you or wonder if you were all right. I'm clean now. And I'm gonna stay clean one minute at a time.

    I look forward to the day you come home.

    Please forgive me! You can go to any courthouse and find me! Just tell them to look it up. It's in the paperwork from the court, the ones that took you away...they have to tell you!

    Love you with all of my soul!

    Your mother
    [name deleted]

    There are other letters and poems included in the collection.

    Sentencing Commission Reduces Penalties for Crack Cocaine Offenses

    In a highly significant shift, the United States Sentencing Commission lowered Guideline sentences involving crack cocaine. About 3,500 federal offenders will see sentences reduced by an average of 15 months.

    What a welcome change! See the Sentencing Projects's Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform to learn more about the change and the significant role of the Project in helping to bring it about.

    Collateral Costs

    Collateral Costs: The Effects of Incarceration on the Employment and Earnings of Young Workers, by Harry J. Holzer.

    Some of the most basic research about the effects of punishment on life go directly to earnings. This is not a new finding but it bears repeating in this era of resorting to incarceration as a first resort.

    AB 900

    Please see this latest CJCJ report on AB 900. AB 900 authorizes the construction of thousands upon thousands of prison beds in California to help resolve the prison crisis.

    The report concludes:

    "Today, California prisons operate approximately 80,000 inmates above capacity. While the construction authorized by AB 900 will reduce that figure, California's prisons will still be overcrowded by over 50,000 inmates in 2012. Without significant rehabilitation, sentencing, and parole reform, the number of inmates within the system will continue to rise. The bill that even supporters called, 'a compromise among bad alternatives,' [cite deleted] does little to alleviate, and nothing to remedy, California's escalating prison crisis."

    Roadmap for CDCR

    Here is a press release on one of the latest reports on CDCR: a California Roadmap for Reducing Recidivism and Overcrowding. There is link to the full report if you don't want to bother with the press release.

    An intriguing idea...creating a 'roadmap' to lead California out of a federal takeover of its prison system. There are lots of concrete measures in this report that could help prevent legal action and actually improve the quality of life in California's beleaguered prison system. Here you have a group of experts who have come up with eleven key ways to reduce recidivism and crowding in the CDCR system.

    Reentry Legislation

    The Second Chance Act, a federal bipartisan attempt to stir interest and activity in meaningful reentry programs for released prisoners, would authorize as much as $65 million in grants to state and local governments and another $15 million to community organizations to develop reentry initiatives or helping services. For an update on the status of legislation try the Reentry Council.

    As an editorial in the New York Times says today, "The Second Chance Act would bolster the re-entry movement with money, training, technical assistance--and the federal stamp of approval." Even Texas has found value in giving tax credits to businesses that hire parolees, reduce recidivism and save their state money, and that is progress. Since nearly all prisoners come back to the community it seems foolhardy to encourage local communities to maintain the enormous barriers to reentry that exist for ex-offenders. Local and state governments often do not know where to begin the process. Fortunately there has been a lot of recent thinking in this area to get the U.S. out of its imprisonment binge and focused on what really counts at the moment--getting offenders reintegrated into society.

    California has been trying to put some money where its mouth is in the area of parole reentry by funding various reentry projects under its Division of Community Partnerships. Time will tell whether these projects and planning grants bear fruit. There is nowhere to go but up!

    Crisis Solved! It's So Easy.

    More Prison or More Alternatives

    Along with the long list of other studies they have conducted, now the Vera Institute of Justice has released a clearly written and concise summary of the evidence on whether and how much building prisons reduces crime and what choices we face in light of this evidence. The report--with the title of Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime--suggests where it is headed, and it is directly relevant to California's prison crisis and imminent deadline for resolving various legal and organizational questions.

    The study does a great service by wading through the various studies on the question of whether prisons reduce crime and presenting them in a way that does not oversimplify or overstate their findings.

    As they point out,

    The most salient question of all may be, Do the resources devoted to prison 'work' better to ensure public safety than if those resources were devoted to something else? Prisons are not the only way to fight crime. Policymakers could spend money on more judges, better staffed or equipped law enforcement, or better-trained probation and parole officers. They could invest, as this paper indicates, in other, non-criminal-justice areas shown to affect crime: education, employment, economic development, etc. The impact of incarceration on crime is limited and diminishing. The public's support for reactive crime control is also in decline. It is therefore fitting that we reconsider the continued emphasis on and dedication of resources to incarceration (p. 16).

    Public Safety Performance Project

    Now the latest national study, this one from PEW, "Public Safety Performance Project", shows the extraordinary costs and questionable crime reduction benefits of continued reliance on increasing incarceration to manage the problem of crime in the U.S.

    The facts are easy to state although hard to swallow: the U.S. has the greatest number of offenders incarcerated--and the highest rate of incarceration--than any country in the world. Not surprisingly, we also spend more money on prisoners and prisons than any other country in the world.

    Second, our incarceration rate is increasing, not because of increasing crime rates (crime has been declining for some time now) but because of changes in laws requiring that more offenders spend greater lengths of time incarcerated. Moreover, this rate is projected to continue increasing dramatically.

    Third, the recidivism or crime level of released prisoners in the U.S. continues to be very high; prison is not decreasing the likelihood of prisoners repeating the same or other crimes.

    Simultaneous with these phenomenal increases in incarcerated populations and absence of desired effects is an equally large long-term loss in support for alternative nonincarcerative programs and services that might prevent crime or its causes in local communities. This is a direct and indirect result of the transfer of funds from state and local government to incarcerate federal, state and local prisoners. The consequence is "lost opportunities" to manage programs in alternative ways.

    As this report notes, there is a great need for legislators to recognize policies and programs that will reduce recidivism and which do not mean increased incarceration costs. A big problem is that policy makers may simply be unaware that programs exist to reduce recidivism without incarceration. We know that locally politicians are afraid to be perceived as "soft on crime" if they do not support more prison or be "tough" on crime.

    Perhaps the greatest myth driving the race to incarcerate (no pun intended since African American and Hispanic populations are greatly overrepresented in prisons) is that prisons are the primary or major cause of reduced crime in the U.S., which is not true. This study shows that there is no one-to-one correspondance between the rate of incarceration and reduction in crime: indeed, in some periods of increased incarceration crime goes up and others it goes down. The report looks at these and other data and concludes that the relationship between incarceration and crime reduction is extremely complex.

    It is plainly obvious that major changes need to come about in the U.S. approach to managing its crime problem. Where do we begin with the health care crisis, the imminent effects of global warming, and other major issues facing our society if we dump enormous sums of money into the ineffective black holes (no pun intended) of prisons that we are unable to address these issues?

    California's Correctional Crisis

    Perhaps the most most important and timely look to date at California's extraordinarily expensive prison problem is the Little Hoover Commission's latest report, Solving California's Corrections Crisis: Time is Running Out (Report #185, January 2007), available in pdf.

    This is a report that ought to light the fire under legislators and opinion makers and force rational and rapid change in corrections. It is clear that the past solution to crises--building more prisons to solve community level problems--hasn't solved any (except political leaders' needs for 'tough on crime' appearances) and in fact makes them much worse: we have lost untold opportunities to fund alternative solutions to crime, our recidivism rates are extremely high despite the massive and record breaking investment in imprisonment, and looming and existing court orders to change the system fundamentally have created enormous pressures to solve the problem.

    This report brings together just enough history of the system and the legislative responses to crime, along with the impact of these, to show how and why the prison and parole system consume such a huge and rapidly growing proportion of our state budget. It also provides many examples of how other jurisdictions have resolved the politically created problems that we have, clearly highlights the deadline (June of 2007) for solving these problems and what the consequences will be if we don't.

    If there isn't a rapid solution the consequences will not be pretty for the legislature, the governor or CDCR (including the CCPOA), and they will be untenable for citizens as they see the price tag for corrections increase even more and watch federal and state judges take control of CDCR.

    The time for drive-by sentencing reform solutions to crime problems is now over.

    What's 738? - Our Imprisonment Rate

    The latest BJS report, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 , reveals that the U.S. incarceration rate (people incarcerated divided by population multiplied times 100,000) has increased to all all-time high of 738, with the federal government's leadership. The incarceration rate grew at a combined 3.4% annual rate from 1995 to 2005, including increases in federal (7.4%), state (2.5%) and jail (3.9%) populations. Table 1, taken from the report, shows over two million one hundred and eighty five thousand inmates in custody, for an overall rate of 738 per 100,000 population.



    The incarceration rate for the Western region is 421--it is 456 for California--with the latter's 170,000+ inmates and close to ten billion dollar budget coming out of the general fund. Of all the Western states, only Arizona's rate is higher (502). However, it is important to note that, "In general,racial and ethnic disparities in California’s criminal justice system resemble those found in the United States as a whole. However, African Americans in California are more likely to be under the control of the criminal justice system than African Americans nationwide" (Chapter 8, Crime and Criminal Justice" in A Portrait of Race and Ethniciity in California.

    Then there are vastly different rates of incarceration by gender and race. See below:

    Click this for Table 13

    The BJS report data are not broken down enough to ascertain whether the West has disproportionate representation of blacks and hispanics than other regions.

    About this Archive

    This page is an archive of recent entries in the Corrections category.

    Commentary is the previous category.

    Crime is the next category.

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