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.

Sentencing Serious Juvenile Offenders

Right on Crime | June 14, 2012
An interesting new report released on Michigan juvenile offenders reveals that most states do not use juvenile life-without-parole (“JLWOP”) sentencing. The few that do use it, however, use it…

Discussing Overcriminalization with Stacy Powells

Marc Levin | January 20, 2012
On January 18th, I discussed overcriminalization on KMMT Radio in California with Stacy Powells.  The complete interview can be heard by clicking below... Read more

Happy New Year! 40,000 New Laws Now in Effect

Right on Crime | January 9, 2012
Last week, at the stroke of midnight, as Americans celebrated the beginning of 2012, thousands of new laws went on the books across the nation and in the federal…

Testimony Before Select Committee of the California Assembly

Marc Levin | December 5, 2011
On November 17, I testified before the California Assembly's Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development. The full two-hour hearing can be viewed here. (My testimony ends at…

New Report on Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice

Right on Crime | October 5, 2011
Last week, two researchers with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report that offers a comprehensive overview and evaluation of the various juvenile justice reform techniques…

Slamming the Prison Doors Shut—For Good

Right on Crime | September 1, 2011
The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) brings us news that sixteen states have recently shut down traditional juvenile detention centers, or drastically reduced the number of youths being incarcerated…

A Whole New Meaning to the Term “Fashion Police”

Right on Crime | August 30, 2011
If we didn’t have enough evidence that police interventions are being over utilized in public schools across America, this news story should be enough to change your mind. Read…

California Youth Sentencing Legislation Facing Vote Soon

Right on Crime | August 9, 2011
California Senate Bill 9 was originally introduced in December of last year, and the amended version of the bill passed in the Senate in May. It has just moved…

California’s Misguided Approach to Complying with Brown v. Plata

Right on Crime | June 15, 2011
June 7th is the deadline by which California must comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plata. Right now, the plan is apparently to reallocate inmates to…

Did “Three Strikes” Laws Bring Down California’s Violent Crime Rate?

Right on Crime | June 15, 2011
Over the last two decades, California has seen a steady reduction in violent crime. Supporters of the “tough on crime” approach take the credit, claiming that “three-strikes” provisions implemented…

Court Orders a Prison Release, but California Doesn’t Know How to Do It

Right on Crime | June 10, 2011
By November 28th, California must get 10,000 prisoners out of its state prison system to meet the first Brown v. Plata benchmark. Unfortunately, according to the Sacramento Bee, the…

Eli Lehrer Comments on Brown v. Plata at The Corner

Right on Crime | May 26, 2011
Earlier this week, Right On Crime signatory Eli Lehrer had some interesting thoughts on the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Plata. Lehrer wrote about the case for National…
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