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Our Insane Parole Policy

by: David Dayen

Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 15:37:20 PM PST

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.

David Dayen :: Our Insane Parole Policy
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Disastrous Failure of Policy (0.00 / 0)
There have been but a few leaders on this subject, and they don't get too far before being shot down. Our prisons are so unbelievably messed up, a complete federal takeover of the CDCR doesn't seem that unlikely. Or really that bad of a scenario.

I think?

Diseased prison-industrial complex (0.00 / 0)
It's interesting that the deficiencies in medical care are the elements of CDCR that get the most attention, but it's the entire system that's sick.  

How did it get this bad?  Is it initiatives?  Is it Republicans who use hate and fear to advance when reality-based problems are invisable to them?  Is it Democrats who, insecure in their own political abilities, accomodate Republican fearmongering?

Who knows. But I doubt that the solution will come from Sacramento.  I think it will require a federal takeover.  Its a shame that self-government doesn't seem to work in California.

How did it get this bad? (0.00 / 0)
Privatization. When you make prisons into profit making machines, they develop their own bureaucracies and interests that influence and manipulate politics, because more prisoners = more money.

Sadly, I didn't hear anyone rooting for prop 5 this last election, and I think most people were unaware of its positive effects due to almost unilateral condemnation by DA's, Counties, and Newspapers everywhere in California. They really should have tooted it as a way to save money and show that the interests opposed to it were in one way or another connected with the prison interests.

[ Parent ]
How it got this bad (0.00 / 0)
There is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to failed criminal justice policy in CA but the prison guards union (CCPOA) would have to top the list of culprits. For over two decades they've pushed for longer prison terms and more punitive parole policies while opposing rehabilitation based alternatives to keep the prisons packed and their paychecks flush with overtime pay. They supported the Three Strikes initiative in 1994 and spent $1.8m opposing Prop. 5, which would have put an end to the insane policy of returning technical parole violators to prison for minor infractions, among other things.

As for a Federal takeover of the prison system, it seems likely that the three judge panel currently assigned to this case will order the early release of prisoners and other measures to return the system to constitutional standards of medical care. However, the State is likely to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court which, being more conservative, is likely to toss the decision.

[ Parent ]
The quality fo mercy is never strained.. except in California (0.00 / 0)
Where testosterone-laden judiciaries hand down exaggerated sentences to single parent women under economic duress stole money from their employers... not to feed drug habits... but to feed and clothe children. CA women prisons are over crowded with women over 55 that are required to serve 20 years for a single economic offense.. non-violent, non-drug related.  That means time served to parole date is 10 years.

These "grannies in the prison yard" pose no threat of recidivism and could actually make worthy contributions to their communities.  but No! the CA legislature lead by penis-envying Tod Spitzer say "over his dead body" and thus the taxpayer is asked to finance prison building and increased medical costs for the "grannies" just so Spitzer et al won't fell like  "gurly man."  Absurd as it sounds, it is no more complicated than that... as it isn't a public safety issue.. it's just revenge.. pay back from being improperly toilet trained by their mothers... shifting the defects in their emotional stability to the taxpayer.  Then add to that the desires of the Correction officers that seek to expand.. and their absurd salaries (Six figure incomes for checking visitors in and out at Chowchilla's women facilities).  It's time to set the grannies free... buy some therapy for Todd Spitzer.. it would save the taxpayer a lot of money.  

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