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.

TX vs. CA on prison reform

Right on Crime | January 13, 2014
Chuck DeVore, Vice President for Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, talks to San Diego’s ‘U-T TV’ about the differences between Texas and California in respect to each…

Weep Not for the Jailer

Derek M. Cohen | September 3, 2013
Earlier this week, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed a two-year stopgap measure that would allocate $315 (potentially exceeding $700 million) to rent private jail space, essentially “kicking the can…

“Prison reform the conservative way”

Right on Crime | July 26, 2013
“We are leaders in the national Right on Crime movement. We believe it’s no longer enough for conservatives just to be tough on crime; we also must be tough…

Grover Norquist on Michael Medved radio show

Right on Crime | May 9, 2013
Here is a partial transcript from a recent Michael Medved radio show, where he interviewed signatory Grover Norquist about our work on criminal justice reform. They discussed the conservative…

The Conservative Case Against More Prisons

Right on Crime | March 18, 2013
Our policy experts Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin wrote an excellent piece recently for The American Conservative magazine. It’s entitled, “The Conservative Case Against More Prisons” and appeared in…

California Legislation Targets School Discipline

Right on Crime | October 12, 2012
Governor Jerry Brown in California has signed two bills that seek to reform school discipline in California schools. The first, Assembly Bill 1729, introduces intervening means of behavior correction…

Teens Judging Teens

Right on Crime | October 5, 2012
First-time juvenile offenders in Humboldt County, California, are sometimes referred not to a judge in a black robe, but to their peers for sentencing. Part of a growing trend…

Ineffective School Discipline Policies Threaten Public Safety

Right on Crime | September 20, 2012
Law enforcement leaders recently banded together to highlight an important – but perhaps surprising –issue in public safety: school discipline. Read more

California Considers Parole Petitions for Lifers Tried as Juveniles

Marc Levin | September 12, 2012
A bill currently sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would permit judicial reconsideration of juveniles previously sentenced to life without parole. Senate Bill 9, passed by the California Senate…

Targeting Truancy Outside of the Juvenile Justice System

Right on Crime | August 23, 2012
Beginning this week, students in Los Angeles’ Unified School District who are truant three times or more will no longer be automatically ticketed and sent to court. Instead, the…

California Continues County Realignment

Right on Crime | August 6, 2012
California’s counties are continuing their efforts to handle the increased number of inmates under their jurisdiction following the massive prison realignment to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. Read more

A Right Way and A Wrong Way to Reduce Prison Populations

Right on Crime | July 10, 2012
Research has revealed that there is a right way and a wrong way to reduce the population of defendants and inmates who are securely confined: categorical releases are usually…
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