California has faced the most acute and high profile prison crises of perhaps any state, including federal court orders requiring the state to reduce overcrowding and effectively taking over the state’s inmate health care system. Many states can learn from the California experience and take pro-active steps to avoid federal court intervention that removes the issue from the democratic process and can impose costs beyond the ability of policymakers to manage.

California is also known for the fact that it spends $46,000 per prison inmate compared with $18,000 spent by Texas, but has a substantially higher re-incarceration rate than the Lone Star State.1 One major reason for the difference in cost is that California, which unlike Texas, has collective bargaining for state corrections workers and pays its prison guards about twice what Texas does.2 In fact, some California corrections officers make in excess of $100,000.3 In recent years, California’s powerful prison guard union has lobbied against corrections reforms.4

Nonetheless, facing a court overcrowding order to either release inmates or create more capacity, the state finally began adopting significant reforms in 2009 under the leadership of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. First, performance-based probation funding was unanimously passed.  Under the California Community Corrections Performance Incentive Act of 2009 (SB678), half of the future state savings on prisons from fewer probation revocations are sent back to counties that produced the savings.  Second, geriatric parole legislation signed in September 2010 was estimated to possibly save the state as much as $200 million a year.5

In an October 26, 2010 article, the Merced Sun Star noted:“Few accused California Govs. Ronald Reagan or George Deukmejian of being “soft on crime…During Reagan’s tenure, the number of prisoners per 100,000 Californians was 121; during Deukmejian’s tenure, it was 230. Last year, it was 436.”6

Governor Schwarzenegger declared in 2004: “”Our prison population now is more than 167,000 people and still growing year after year. If we imprisoned people at 1994 rates, we’d have 145,000 prisoners. That is a doable goal. Our sentencing rules have doubled the number of aging prisoners in just 10 years. We’ve now got more than 16,000 prisoners over the age of 50. We’re going to turn the tide of increased prison population. We’re going to show that California can reduce crime and downsize our prison system.”

Now, California policymakers must build on the recent policy advances to overcome decades of failure and turn the corrections tide in favor of taxpayers and public safety.

New California law terminates bail and risks public safety while Texas seeks reform

Chuck DeVore | September 11, 2018
This article by Chuck DeVore originally appeared in Forbes September 10, 2018. With California Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on Senate Bill 10, the cash bail system, with 15 centuries of…

Bail reform is a good thing but California went too far

Michael Haugen | September 10, 2018
This article by Michael Haugen originally appeared in Dallas Morning News September 9, 2018. There has been a long-running comparison between California and Texas as to which of the…

Limits on The American Dream in California

Katie Greer | December 21, 2017
Reading about dreams that were squashed by a government regulation is essentially Groundhog Day in California. A young man named Jonathan became a victim to overregulation when the Bay…

Hot Dogs and Over-Criminalization in Berkeley

Marc Levin | September 13, 2017
The now-viral video of a UC-Berkeley police officer seizing a bacon hotdog vendor’s money begs some deeper scrutiny. The officer’s department issued a statement saying the money that was…

United, Ferguson, Abu-Ghraib, And The L.A. Riots At 25: Lessons Learned

Chuck DeVore | May 2, 2017
This article, written by Chuck DeVore, originally appeared in Forbes on April 27, 2017. 25 years ago, I was leading patrols in riot-torn Los Angeles as an Army National…

With SB 443’s Signature, Stronger Civil Forfeiture Protections Come to the Golden State

Michael Haugen | October 3, 2016
Over at Forbes, Nick Sibilla from the Institute for Justice (IJ) reports that California Governor Jerry Brown has signed Senate Bill 443, a much-debated piece of legislation that strengthens…

Sweeping Civil Asset Forfeiture Reforms In California Falls Short

Michael Haugen | September 14, 2015
Presented with the opportunity to provide residents of the Golden State with some of the country’s strongest protections for property rights, some members of the California State Assembly thought…

Falling Crime Rates Offers Hope of Cutting Costs

Chuck DeVore | April 28, 2015
Former California politician Chuck DeVore–now Vice President of Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation–spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about a crime equivalent of the so-called “peace dividend.” The article describes…

“Conservatives Are Still Trouncing Liberals on Prison Reform” – Greene

Right on Crime | February 5, 2015
After the passage of Proposition 47 in California, liberals are beginning to recognize the leadership of conservatives in the area. Giving credit where credit is due, an op-ed in…

Maintaining Safety While Being Fiscally Responsible

Right on Crime | October 4, 2014
The last several decades have seen a massive government expansion in crime. Over-criminalization has expanded state and federal prisons, causes a burden to taxpayers and a concerning cycle of…

Gingrich & Hughes: What California Can Learn from the Red States on Crime and Punishment

Right on Crime | September 20, 2014
This week, Right on Crime signatories Newt Gingrich and B. Wayne Hughes published an important piece in the LA Times entitled, “What California can learn from the red states…

A New Push for Conservative Reform in California

Right on Crime | July 17, 2014
A November ballot initiative in California is directed at reforming the state’s troubled criminal justice system. The California Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, would... Read more
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