| A remarkable little report appeared over the weekend, one that should have been on the desks of every member in the Legislature come Monday morning, but one which I suspect wasn't. In fact, I don't think it even made any of the papers, relegated to a sidebar on CapAlert.
California has more men and women locked up in prison than any other state, a new federal report finds, and unlike any other state, the vast majority of those placed behind bars are parole violators.
The report bolsters contentions by critics of the much-overcrowded prison system that state parole officers, who belong to the same union as prison guards, are extraordinarily willing to slap a parole inmate back behind bars, thereby exacerbating a prison overcrowding problem [...]
On average, the nation's state and federal prisons took in almost two new offenders for every parole violator, but in California, the reverse is true. In 2007, California prisons took in 139,608 inmates and 92,628 of them were parole violators, almost a 2-1 ratio. In only one other state, Washington, did parole violators outnumber those being jailed by the courts, and that was only by 126 inmates.
Here's the report from the Department of Justice.
It is a financial and moral disaster that we are throwing men and women back in jail for parole violations at such an accelerated rate, far beyond any other state in the country. This is clearly a factor of the state's parole policy, which is too constrictive and too quick to return people to prison. It surely leads to the high recidivism rate for those who commit crimes multiple times - if they feel they can't escape the system once they're in it, they simply have no incentive to rehabilitate themselves.
Yet instead of reforming parole policy and getting some much-needed sanity into our sentencing laws, the bipartisan Tough on Crime machine squashes an independent sentencing commission and allows the passage of Prop. 9, which would implement an even MORE restrictive parole system, so much so that it violates the state constitution.
A federal judge has blocked enforcement of portions of a ballot measure approved last month by California voters that modify the state's parole revocation system.
The so-called Victims' Bill of Rights of 2008, passed on Nov. 4 as Proposition 9, amends the Penal Code to restrict or eliminate rights gained in a 14-year-old class action lawsuit in Sacramento federal court, parolees' attorneys argue.
Parolees and the state agreed in March 2004 to a permanent injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton mandating an overhaul of parole revocation procedures and guaranteeing due process for ex-convicts accused of parole violations.
Ten days after the election, attorneys for the parolees filed a motion seeking to enforce the 2004 injunction, saying Proposition 9 "purports to eliminate nearly all due process rights of parolees and directly conflicts with the protections put in place by the injunction and established constitutional law."
We are diseased by the prison-industrial complex. Prison construction is good for the CCPOA and supposedly good for the economy but it's based on a flawed notion that all construction spending is valuable. In fact, prison construction, especially of the type so needless that bringing parole policy in line with the other 49 states in the union would practically eliminate the overcrowding crisis and rendering the need for more beds moot, crowds out other, more valuable building projects that have a tangible value to people's lives. We are violating the human rights of inmates and the Constitutional provision against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as stifling innovative public investment, because the parole officers have a powerful lobby and the Tough on Crime dementia has infested the minds of practically every legislator in the state for 30 years.
Fixing parole policy and putting up-front money into drug treatment and prevention programs would save the state billions. It requires leadership. That's a limited resource right now in Sacramento.