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Update on California’s prison release conundrum

Update on California’s prison release conundrum

by Rosalea Barker

Because of the deadline for Werewolf, my story there is now out of date with respect to the prison reform legislation California has been considering. The California Legislature’s regular session ended at midnight on Friday, 11 September, and the bill that was eventually passed by both the Senate (which had originally passed a much more wide-ranging bill) and the Assembly will likely be signed by the Governor, even though it falls short of what he had hoped to see. As expected, the sentencing commission and plans for alternative custody for sick and elderly inmates were dropped, according to this report in the Sacramento Bee.

On his website, the leader of the Senate, Darrell Steinberg, lists the major provisions of the scaled-back bill that was passed by a vote of 21-15. The bill was part of a budget package, hence the savings enumerated in brackets:

Parole ($188 million savings)

Parole Policy: CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] will increase supervision levels for the most serious and violent offenders. CDCR Parole agents currently manage a 70:1 ratio. This bill brings it down to 45:1 allowing agents to better monitor the most serious and violent offenders. Agents currently only have the time to make one home visit per quarter and one office visit per month. Under this bill, an agent will be able to make two home visits per month and three office visits per month.

Low and moderate risk parolees with non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offenses will not be subject to parole revocation.

Establishes the Parole Reentry Accountability Program. As part of the program CDCR will use a parole violation decision-making instrument to determine the most appropriate parole sanctions for a parole violator. Parole violators with a history of substance abuse or mental illness may be referred to a re-entry court. The court will work with the assistance of parole agents to determine the appropriate conditions of parole.

Credits ($42 million savings)

The legislation revises and recasts day-for-day credits and provides up to 6 weeks of credits for inmates who complete specific milestones in rehabilitative programming such as vocation, substance abuse treatment or education. Credits under the revised credit formulas are subject to forfeiture.

Probation Supervision ($30 million savings)

County probation will receive a portion of CDCR savings for improving outcomes so felony probationers who would otherwise be sent to prison remain under the jurisdiction of the counties. Probation will use these funds for additional officers and evidence-based programs. Seed money is provided for 2009-10 via a $45 million appropriation from federal funds.

Sentencing ($20 million savings)

Property crime thresholds many of which have not changed since 1982 will be updated to reflect the Consumer Price Index except Grand Theft which remains at $400. [The Senate’s first version of the bill had raised that threshold to $2,500. Grand Theft is a categorized as a felony.]

“While I am disappointed we were not able to pass a more comprehensive solution that includes a sentencing commission and alternative custody, these changes are a common sense first step in addressing our stretched parole system and the federal intervention in California's criminal justice system,” Senate Pro Tem Steinberg said in the press release.

The other part of the correctional crisis—a federal district court’s requirement that California develop a plan to reduce prison overcrowding and submit it by September 18—also featured in the news on Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the governor's request to delay submitting the plan to the three-judge panel in California. SCOTUS didn’t rule on the merits of the panel’s request, which asserts that California’s severely overcrowded prisons amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Such punishment is expressly forbidden in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment is part of the Bill of Rights added to the original Constitution and ratified in 1791.



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