As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, January 02, 2009

California Budget Cuts I Can Believe In

Lost amidst the union-busting and efforts to destroy public schools in Arnold's budget proposal is maybe the first serious, legitimate attempt to sensibly manage the prison crisis in decades, with a reform plan that would save the state $1 billion by boarding up the revolving door between jail and parole for nonviolent offenders.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget proposal would reduce by tens of thousands the number of criminals behind bars and under community supervision.

Parole would be eliminated for all nonserious, nonviolent and non-sex offenders. The proposal would cut the parole population by about 65,000 by June 30, 2010, or more than half of the Christmas Eve count of 123,144.

At the same time, the corrections plan calls for increasing good-time credits for inmates who obey the rules and complete rehabilitation programs. Combined with the new parole policies that would result in fewer violators forced back into custody, the proposal would reduce the prison population by 15,000 by June 30, 2010. It stood at 171,542 on Dec. 24.

It is insane and wrong, particularly during this budget meltdown but really in general, that 2/3 of all prisoners entering the system in 2007 were parole violators. These are minor, possibly technical offenses with little bearing on public safety that clog up the jails, creating constitutional crises. California is the worst state in the union when it comes to parole policy, and these changes would simply bring the state in line with the rest of the country, all of which are able to manage without a perpetual crime wave.

Now, it may anger tough on crime advocates, as well as those who have a self-interested stake like the prison guards, but I have to say that they are the right people to anger.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, still at odds with Schwarzenegger over a new contract, blasted the plan.

"What it means is residual costs to all citizens of California and higher insurance rates and more crime," said CCPOA spokesman Lance Corcoran, whose union represents about 30,000 correctional officers and parole agents. "These are individuals who do not take advantage of opportunities for change, and they are not going to change," he said of the offenders who stand to benefit from the proposals.

More scaremongering isn't going to work. There is no reason for tough on crime policies to continue to rule the day. Those days are over.

The proposals on rehabilitation and time credits for prisoners, which would accrue in county lockups and get advanced if detainees take drug, vocational and educational programs, are already in the work-around budget passed by the Legislature. Arnold could go ahead and sign that, and put us on a more responsible criminal justice path immediately.

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