Governor Jerry Brown and Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Brown are in hot water with the Supreme Court. The system appears to be 9,600 inmates over the legally determined cap. They have until year’s end to make the deadline. How will the state realign inmate numbers with constitutional standards without endangering the public?
The governor released a plan to reduce the 9,600 surplus to roughly 2,000 by seeking more money to send inmates to out-of-state private prisons, expanding low-security fire-fighting camps, and leasing jail space from Los Angeles and Alameda counties, two of the most criminally active areas of California.
These are three of the governor’s politically expedient options, in addition to parole for the elderly and expansion of “good-time credits” that allow prisoners to earn days of freedom through good behavior.
Average inmates earn one day of freedom for every day without an infraction, violent inmates one day for every two, and fire-fighting inmates two for every one. Expanding this program, as federal judges have ordered the governor to do, would likely mean a broader definition of both “good behavior” and “low-risk.”
Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard has stated that there simply aren’t any more low-risk offenders to release. Chuck Alexander, vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), confirmed that for as long as he’s worked in the department, California isn’t incarcerating traditionally “low-risk” offenders.
The definition of “low-risk” primarily refers to inmates who have accepted a plea bargain for a lesser crime than originally charged or parole violators. New restrictions on incarceration means very few state prisoners are “low-risk,” even by these standards.
“The biggest misconception about the California corrections system,” Alexander said, “is that it is easy to get into prison.”
A telling example: an officer stops a parolee in his car who is high on meth and has burglary tools. The officer knows he is a burglar.
Before realignment, the officer could use his violation of parole on the previous conviction as reason enough to lock him up. After realignment, however, the state would have a difficult time placing the offender back in prison without a new conviction on burglary charges.
“The average number of felony charges for state prison inmates is nine,” revealed Alexander. “Only five percent of felony arrests even go to trial…We do not incarcerate over [having] an ounce of pot.”
As prisons stop accepting repeat offenders, it is getting harder to measure how many repeats are coming in. Recidivism rates, the critical indicator of rotating-door inmates, are not collected statewide.
One county may collect data to measure policy effect and another may not, leading to a “smoke and mirrors” patchwork of mystery trends. Coincidentally, since tweaking policy to avoid repeat incarceration without compensating in rehab, property crime in California has seen an increase.
This separation between county and state jurisdiction limits the government’s ability to amend inefficient county procedures. When asked for comment on the possibilities of public bail assistance/bondsmen subsidies, expedition of the pretrial process, and credits/rehab for pretrial detainees, Alexander deferred expertise to the counties.
However, he indicated there is a strong bureaucratic incentive to either change current bail procedures or foster bondsmen:
“There do appear to be a lot of people locked up [in local jails] that…[could] be out safely. They just can’t make bail because they’re poor.”
Freeing this space would significantly ease prison pressure.
As far as rehab, Alexander said the state doesn’t really do re-entry. Instead, they entrust this delicate task to manual labor or half-way houses. The state, in his opinion, “has not stepped up” to fully rehabilitate its prisoners, both because they “haven’t had the space or the desire” and because “it costs money.”
Alexander used a shoe factory “rehab” work program as an example.
“Unless you’re going to go make Nikes in China… you aren’t going to be employable,” he said. He added that inmate barbers, although they learn the skills to be capable barbers, are unable to secure a barber’s license post-release because of their status as ex-felons.
He suggested “community-based” alternatives; expanding the half-way house system outside the prisons is an attractive alternative to county jail construction.
Fostering parolees unable to hold down jobs (or even be considered for one) may ensure they don’t reach the nine-felony-average that will qualify them for incarceration. Examples from Texas suggest that eventually “fiscal conservatism [will win] out over ‘tough-on-crime’ policies.”
Fire-fighting camps are a valuable boon both for qualified prisoners and overloaded prisons. However, camps have swelled to capacity after the strict criteria for admission were tweaked. With 42 camps, 200 crews and over 4,000 training prisoners are training in the hills.
Currently, an inmate must have a non-serious sentence no longer than 2 years and have no rule violations to qualify for a camp. Whether these criteria will change again or more camps will be built remains to be seen.
Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.
So a balance of education, job and life skills, comprehensive physical and mental healthcare (including exercise) in a balanced humane package with a lots tough love thrown in. For anyone who grew up Catholic, I suggest consulting the Jesuits (Pope Francis's order) who civilized many.
As the author Daniel Pink suggested, for drive/motivation we ALL need mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
My friend was just released from a fire-fighter camp, and it has tremendously helped her in terms of job prospects, self confidence, and her overall outlook. These programs can help streamline the process between jail and release.
I think the death penalty is barbaric so to hear it is more expensive, is great. I think making inmates work hard to pay off their debt to society is fine with me. Maybe they will see the light and reform. In the mean time we have fires to fight, trails to clear, license plates to make, machinery to fix, disaster clean up and much much more. What jobs does are government need done and could be done for free by inmates?
“The biggest misconception about the California corrections system,” Alexander said, “is that it is easy to get into prison.”
This is a very common misconception. If you asked people anywhere why the prison population in California is as high as it is, they will say it is because people will be put in prison for having like an ounce of marijuana on them.
“The average number of felony charges for state prison inmates is nine,” revealed Alexander. “Only five percent of felony arrests even go to trial…" This statistic is wild. Average number of felony charges per inmate is 9? That raises a lot of questions about effectiveness of rehabilitation, but also who we can afford to release for a few days of good behavior.
Great job getting a hold of the CCPOA to dig deeper into the situation inmates and correctional officers face in California. I think there's a lot of misconception that gets thrown around in the prisons debate, but it's complicated and needs elaboration from those who have a stake in what happens there.
NYT published an article about NY states success in assisting mentally ill patients who are court ordered to particpate in an outpatent program. I wonder how many of CAs inmates would rehabilitate if given the proper mental health assistance?
Given the severity and frequency with which we are experiencing large and dangerous fires, and how difficult it is to find enough qualified fire fighters to do the job of containing them, would it be possible to 'loan' out these fire fighters to other states, in exchange for those states handling their incarceration afterwards? If these are short sentence individuals, it would be a win win situaiton for states like AZ and CO that have had recent horrific fires (also maybe TX). Then the existing camps that are full could potentially take on new trainees. Just a suggestion, but why not make a category for violent offenders who are documented as having been on good behavior for x -amount - say 1/4 - of their sentence. If you have a sixteen year sentence, and you do the first four on good behavior, shouldn't that earn you SOMETHING besides the days off your sentence, as an inducement?
And just maybe it is time that some professions like barber no longer prohibit people who have committed a crime and done their time from getting licensed.
As we saw with the work of Dept. of Sociology chair Chris Uggens (U of MN), those felons who become part of the community, for example voting, but who also are able to build new lives with jobs and families are far less likely to re-offend. For former felons who voted, it was on the order of 70% less likely. If we want people to rehab themselves into good citizens, we have to give them a way to do so, not make it impossible.
If California would execute the more than 700 murderers on death row it would really help with the over population problem.
we should hire inmates to corral livestock and get rid of brush instead of emitting more carbon through controlled fires. Ted talk on desertification shows that cleaning, churning, and fertilizing the land with livestock is the most effective way to get an arid area to reblossom. Could cut down on need for firefighters as we clear dry grass naturally...I'll never forget the hordes of goats that came every other week or so to our local park in Menlo Park, CA.
Great to hear! I am not an inmate but even for me, a middle aged woman, hiking mountains, being outdoors, having a purpose, building skill sets, and giving back are huge motivators and have been all of my life.
nine is shocking to me too. makes me think harder about the hunger strike.
CCPOA VP also insisted that all members of the SHU were put there because they exhibited violent behavior. appears to be true for at least the leader: http://news.yahoo.com/hunger-strike-leader-convicted-murderer-alleged-neo-nazi-002016575--abc-news-topstories.html
in his defense, he hasnt been violent for 13 years and has since earned a paralegal degree...what we REALLY need to hear more about are the CRITERIA USED for SHU status (CDCR says it's violent behavior, prisoners say you can be put in SHU because someone was tempted with freedom to snitch on someone else), as well more information about the multi-step rehab program assigned to 115 of the reviewed cases, theoretically to discourage gang activity. (almost 400 reviewed, 208 transferred)
I didn't take that literally at first either and was trying to figure it out. Very interesting. I think it's a great idea.
42 low security fire camps with 200 crews...it is an incarceration-through-training method that allows inmates to earn double the good time credits and train rigorously with low-risk companions...don't know how much actually blaze-battling is done by inmates, though.
Prison inmates who fight fires, like those big forest fires. They get special training in prison on how to do it, are trained on the equipment, and then get special rates of time off their sentence for good behavior because the work is dangerous - but gets them out from behind the walls and bars. They are usually accompanied by a minimal number of armed guards while they work, etc.
HI MOM!! :D wow so many. Lucas Eaves recently posted an infographic about the distribution of incarceration spending...it includes a staggering figure about the space to be made with a simple application of cognitive behavioral therapy: http://ivn.us/infographics/2013/07/29/distribution-of-incarceration-in-the-u-s/
this is a great point. we've already sent thousands of felons out of state to private prisons; who says we can't build more low-security camps in fire-prone states and loan them our inmates? Also, basing rewards off of a consistent pattern of behavior is already used readily in prisons nationwide, so expanding it to let felons with violent charges but with no prison incidents for multiple years join the program is an easy way to siphon butts off beds. the biggest hurdle for the CDCR lies in the political backlash inherent to every method they could possibly try.
this infographic here shows the massive spending on executions and how life without parole actually costs the state less money...on the other hand, there's no space.
Death sentences end up being more expensive than life time incarceration. The price of making it easier to execute people would help with overcrowding problems, but create serious issues with our conscious judicial decision to make it harder to kill the innocent than convict the guilty.
true that it would help, not so sure how sustainably. the CDCR is already in enough hot water over treating prisoners like animals.
The goats are ised to trim the grass in rough terrain and usually show up between spring and summer. Cows are very hard on land but maybe with proper management they can be beneficial. Not too much of a good thing! Please post the TED video.
NO! Governor Moonbeam in contempt of court?? How can it be?
Maybe Joe Arpaio has the answer to all our burning (pun intended) questions with his chain gang volunteers. It makes a lot of sense to me to put inmates to work, both for their future and to help support the prison system. I've never been in jail, but I personally would rather be spending time in prison doing something useful in the long-term and to occupy as much of my time as possible and I can't imagine a better way than to spend it outdoors rather than locked up in a cell all the time.
There is a reason the appeals process exists. It is expensive, but perhaps that is a reason to rethink the death penalty. I am not against the death penalty either for certain crimes, but it is an expensive process.
@ Dog Gone
I don't know how to respond in order once the "reply" icon goes away, but hopefully this doesn't seem too disjointed
Submarines. Think Submarines.
Those are good points about the unskilled jobs and perhaps that’s the key; change the skill sets of the inmates rather than simply giving them busy work. Viewing inmates as educable, trainable people who were left behind as a result of our social indifference before they even committed crimes would certainly change the issue long-term, but I don’t think that’s going to help Jerry Brown much.
I've always been intrigued by the stark differences in our culture and the cultures of other countries such as Canada, Australia, France, etc. related to the volume of inmates, the methods of imprisonment, the relative violence and even the rate of recidivism in our penal system. Here are some interesting statistics http://releasedandrestored.org/statistics.html which show the US incarcerating the most of the nine countries studied, outranking even Russia.
There’s gotta be a correlation(s) somewhere in this anomaly. I wonder what it is that creates such disparities between most other developed countries and even the similarities with Russia?
Anyway, back to submarines. Submarines contain crews that far outnumber the space required to serve, bunk, bathe, and even work their crews, but they still work very efficiently by staging virtually every process that runs the ships and manages personnel in shifts, including sharing bunks. Short-term, working inmates in the same manner could be an alternative to shoving everyone in the same quarters, at the same time; serving meals at the same time, etc.
Rethinking the process is going to require a combination of quick and long-term fixes, especially in Jerry Brown’s situation, but work shouldn't be limited to that which is most comfortable, rather it should imitate life on "the outside" allowing for diversity in training, etc.
The problem is that most of those outdoor jobs are backbreaking menial labor, often done in horrific conditions, like heat that is so extreme it makes people ill. There is a big difference between giving people time outdoors to be active, and treating prisoners inhumanely - like the proverbial army mule - in the most degrading of circumstances, which is what Sheriff Joe Arpaia has been cited for doing. There is a strong tendenccy on the right that believes that the harsher the treatment, the lower the rate of recidivism, whch is not supported by any outcomes. Instead we have the kind of violations we accuse other countries of perpetrating, without any benefit other than the exploitation of our fellow Americans. Not my observation; it is part of the whole concept of right wing authoritarianism, which has a foundation in political, social and personality psychology as well as sociology -- the notion that you can punish behavior to make a change, and that if some doesn't succeed, more and more punishment will accomplish the goal. Unfortunately, as we know from psychology, punishment is not a particularly successful means to an end, and can even be counter-productive. But it makes a certain kind of person FEEL better, feel as if they are doing something to control others, to enforce conformity and compliance.
I don't want to particularly embrace either extreme - the right wing authoritarians like Sheriff Joe, OR the so-called kumbaya 'hugger' liberals. I'm interested in methods that are humane, because that says a great deal about who we are as a culture and society, and is consistent with our own values and standards, but beyond that I'm interested in what actually produces the desirable results, so long as the methods are ethical and moral to do so. i find right wing alternatives to be both costly and failing to produce the desired results. Being sympathetic and encouraging to those trying to change their lives for the better is preferable, but not without achieving the desired goal effectively.
I wonder, for example, why it is we allow prisons to use inmate labor in call centers, for pennies an hour in compensation to the prisoners, but do not then require them for that privilege of cheap labor, to hire a certain percentage of those same prisoners when they leave the criminal justice system? Just one example of changing our thinking on what we want and how we achieve it.
Interesting to hear about the creative writing success. It seems a good balance of education and physical activity are both greatly needed as well as possibly spiritual growth. I understand many industries need skilled labor and are using community colleges as a way to train. Investing in these inmates is all good.
The problem Bob is that most of what prisoners do outside is of the most unskilled variety, like cleanin up litter alongside roadways. Depending on how cooperative the prisoners are - or how demanding the communities are that they work in, in terms of safety, it is not so clear that this is even remotely helpful for post-release benefits. Even firefighting is a highly seasonal skill, the usefulness for employment of which varies greatly from year to year, and region to region. With the exception of litter clearing, most of the jobs you are talking about requires using industrial quality equipment, owned by state, county or municipal entities, very expensive and requiring real skill. Otherwise, you have a job done less well, taking longer, that is just makework. So for these prisoners to do this outside work, other than shoveling something or picking up trash, you get into either investing and training them in equipment, hauling the prisoners AND the equipment -- and the really touchy problem of insurance and safety in using the equipment.
Many of these ideas seem great on the surface, but when you look at them in detail not so many hold up well in analysis of cost benefit. What is useful in terms of long term benefits (and I think we would all consider that to mean staying out of trouble with the criminal justice system, and being gainfully employed) involves more bang for the buck in things like improving reading and other skills.
I was recently asked by a friend who is getting paid during the summer months to teach creative writing at a 1,000 prisoner facility. She was particularly impresse with the quality of what some of the men wrote, and the speed with which they progressed. (I'm considering it.) Unfortunately, in spite of the change that the prison administration noted in the incarcerated students having an expressive outlet, in becoming more verbal, and more thoughtful as a result of this teaching, there are huge numbers of men on the waiting list for that class, but not enough funding to allow for more sessions of it.
What that suggests to me is that the penal system benefits by investment in a variety of rehab efforts, some of which have direct dollar and cents calulations, but others might have less immediately tangible but very profound benefits in achieving those desired goals of skills to keep these people functioning outside the corrections system.
Oh, heck yes. I personally would indeed rather be outdoors anytime for many reasons, not the least of which would include escaping the violence that takes place inside and from what I understand, the food is pretty much unpalatable inside as well, so food would not be a detriment to the choice. I would volunteer in a heartbeat, heat, cold, wet or dry.
The cost benefit analysis I understand and yes, there is a cost - TANSTAFL, but in the long run I would imagine the benefit would outweigh the cost by providing badly needed income for the prison systems and services for the public, training prisoners in a field that could be used upon release thereby reducing recidivism, occupying inmates time with constructive efforts thereby reducing violence and gang activities - a mind and body actively occupied while pursuing constructive efforts are far less focused on negative activities, I would think.
Admittedly, I know nothing of prisons or prisoner mentality, so I may be talking out the side of my head for all I know, but it seems to me that the prison mentality of inmates is caused by the prison system itself.
I don’t think I’m talking about a quick-fix here, the likes of which Jerry Brown is faced with, but had this been a plan all along, the fix may not be needed now and it seems very plausible and beneficial all around the issue of prison over-crowding and long-term issues.
So you'd rather be outside doing physically really strenuous activity, in all kinds of weather, while being fed poorly - food service is to the cheapest bidder? I don't object to people working, either indoors or outdoors, but we should not be using prisons as slave labor camps either. There is also the question of who is outside, and what is cost effective in terms of how many people it takes to guard them, balanced against the value of their work. That's what is known as a cost benefit analysis.