Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Budget Cut

Grover Norquist, the president of conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, continues his new crusade to get conservatives on the Straight Talk (on Crime) Express with this recent op-ed in the Orange County Register.  The piece nicely sums up how incarceration doesn't promote conservative family values -- or, really, any conservative values:

...lengthy prison stays pull people away from school, family obligations and religious institutions – all of the things that conservatives rightly emphasize as critical to good citizenship.
Today's criminal justice system is big government on steroids, and the responsibility for taming its excesses falls to those committed to smaller government: conservatives. We fight against big government, excess spending, unaccountability, and bureaucracy in nearly every other segment of spending. With new Republican majorities nearly 20 state legislatures, now is the time to start fighting against an ineffective, big-government prison system. and begin being tough on criminal justice's bottom line as well as crime.
That message should resonate in California, which has both a budget crisis -- and that's crisis with a capital C -- and a notoriously bloated prison population:
In states like California, the annual cost of incarceration is around $50,000 per inmate. When looking for reasons why California is going bankrupt, just multiply that figure by the 170,000 inmates that live in the state. Moreover, 34,000 California prisoners are serving life sentences as a result of the "three strikes" law, for which the state prison guards' union lobbied intensely. Certainly, some violent criminals should be out after the first strike, but the law applies to many low-level, nonviolent offenders, too.
Stats like those make budget cutting practically a no-brainer!  This nice piece from California's Inland Valley Daily Bulletin gets into the nitty-gritty on new Governor Jerry Brown's efforts to cut back -- with no mention of three strikes law reform:
Brown's budget calls for the elimination of the Division of Juvenile Justice, putting the responsibility on local governments to detain juvenile offenders ($250 million in savings). Meanwhile, lower-level, nonviolent, non-sex offenders would be housed in county jails, not prisons ($1.4 billion in savings). Perhaps we should consider the Texas model, where there have been reduced sentences for drug crimes, and a focus on job training and rehabilitation. As a result, Texas has seen a decrease in serious crime and its incarceration rate, even saving over $2 billion by not having to build a 17,000-bed prison that was planned.
Undoubtedly, Governor Brown is doing his best -- and he inherited this mess, by the way.  A crisis, by definition, calls for serious action.  It's the obvious fix that is the most serious:  if you want to cut corrections costs, send fewer people to prison and don't make them stay there as long!  

Three strikes and mandatory minimum reform should be the first -- not the last -- order of business for states looking to cut budgets.

1 Comment:

RC said...

I unfortunately come in contact with "criminals" and what society fails to understand is many of these men and women "want" employment. However, employers discriminate on felony convictions, even tho they say a record isn't necessarily a bar to employment. In reality, it is, which is why recedivism rates are so high & single moms on public assistance abound.

The 3-strikes law is garbage! "Wobblers" (crimes that can be misdemeanors or felonies) are habitually elevated to felonies by prosecutors, many times w/out merit, causing non-strike, non-violent crimes to be doubled in time. Thus offenders with 1 case, which happens to be a strike, suffer doubled prison time for a non-violent, non-strike wobbler, which increases costs. The demonic 3rd strike for a non-violent felony (again, probably an elevated "wobbler") gives a person 25 to life for a misdemeanor offense elevated to a felony by overzealous prosecutors.

A true example: 1st time offender, no juvenile record gets a strike as an adult for assault w/GBI put on 3yrs felony probation. He commits no more crime but panics when he hits a parked car, now he's in court for a misdemeanor hit & run. Prosecutor discovers he's on felony probation, elevates the misdemeanor to a felony, then must dismiss it as it isn't a matter of law. So does she drop the case as law would dictate, no, she comes back with a felony vandalism in an attempt to violate his probation, double his time & send him to prison. The public pretender refuses to file a dismissal as asked. Defendant refuses to plea to any felony so he's frightened into pleading to a misdemeanor vandalism w/threat of revocation of felony probation & prison time. Is this young man a recedivist, no, but the prosectors making him look like one on paper in attempts to imprison him under the 3 strikes law.

Kids of an inmate are usually supported by the state & the inmate is doing oodles of time for a non-strikable wobbler, both paid for by taxpayers. The kids are raised w/out adequate parental guidance & lack financial access to higher education, thus increasing the likelihood they'll start a new cycle of offenders.

It is past time to reform the 3 strikes law, for all "wobblers" with any strike and the doubling of time for non-strikes. All 3 strikes should be for violent felonies only! (Sex crimes already have a 1 strike law). The list of what is classified as a "violent felony" needs to be reformed also. In its current state its way to broad & expansive. A hand to hand combat, possibly in defense, will earn a person a "violent" strike if the other party gets injured (GBI, his nose is broke). That in itself is utterly assurb! When I was growing up hand to hand combat was a fight (which members of government pay to see (boxing for example)). Of course someone is going to get hurt, but it shouldn't be "violent" or a strike unless weapons were used, right? We wish!

Stop overzealous prosecutors from elevating "wobblers" to felonies only for 3 strike purposes. Stop discrimation in the workforce against felons/parolees and require employers to hire a certain number of them. If they're asking, sometimes begging, an employer for a job apparently they want to become productive citizens & live right. Reform the sentencing structure requiring all 3 strikes be violent felonies, double time for a 2nd strike NOT non-violent, non-strikable offenses. Reclassify "violent" felonies: robbery w/weapon of an occupied structure, assault w/weapon, not to include hands unless the victim is elderly, disabled or a child, etc.

These changes will drastically reduce prison cost, recedivism and public assistance costs, hence taxpayers costs.

Reform has to start at the root of the problem; unfair 3 strike sentencing laws, unjust prosecutors and access to employment for all.