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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Steinberg, Democrats Say They Have The Votes For Modest Prison Reform

The short-term fights are starting to be VERY short-term. Following up on an earlier item, Democrats in the legislature plan to hold a vote on prison reform as early as Thursday, that would clarify $1.2 billion dollars in cuts. And they don't need any Republican votes to do it.

Over objections from Republican lawmakers, the Legislature plans to take up a majority-vote prison package Thursday that is designed to reduce the state's inmate population by 27,300 and is backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The overall package would save $1.2 billion in part by reducing certain property crimes to misdemeanors, placing low-level parolees on global positioning system monitoring and sending older, infirm prisoners to house arrest or medical facilities to serve the final 12 months of their sentences.

The initial plan included an independent sentencing commission that could report back on changes to the runaway sentencing laws at the heart of the prison crisis. I don't see that mentioned in this article, or anywhere else. Hopefully that remains part of the solution. And like the rest, lawmakers can enact it on a majority-vote basis (which means that the solutions wouldn't take effect for 90 days). Darrell Steinberg reiterated his support today.

"I'm confident we'll have the votes," said Steinberg, who will caucus with Democrats tomorrow

Steinberg said the Senate would vote on the governor's plan, but with slight modifications to clarify which elderly and infirm inmates could be eligible for alternative custody and release.

"The intent has never been to carte blanche release any inmates, elderly, infirm inmates," he said. "It never has been, but there has been some concern expressed, so we want to make sure that there are very tight criteria that would even allow for the possibility of allowing elderly and infirm inmates to be released."

I prefer the People's Budget Fix, which would stop putting nonviolent drug offenders in overcrowded prisons, focus on reducing recidivism through rehabilitation and treatment, institute risk-based parole supervision rather than blanket supervision that inevitably raises the rates of recidivism (often on technical violations of parole), and address the most ineffective areas of the criminal justice system - the burdensome, brutal three strikes law, and the death penalty. The People's Budget Fix coalition held a rally today. You can hear Leland Yee speaking about it here and here.

And I hope they keep fighting. I hope we have a sane criminal justice policy caucus in the legislature as a counterweight to the tough on crime troglodytes. But while the Democratic/Schwarzenegger package isn't perfect, but it's the first step in the right direction in 30 years. Particularly if the sentencing commission is included in the package, it will be historic and very important. We will finally end the long march of building more prisons and warehousing inmates without giving them the tools to actually rehabilitate themselves and become productive members of society, and toward a future where we spend less, create more productive citizens and actually make our state safer.

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